Senate approves $8 billion to prepare for flu outbreak


Nation Digest


WASHINGTON -- Trying to improve national readiness for a potential outbreak of the avian flu, the Senate approved nearly $8 billion yesterday to stockpile vaccines and other drugs to combat the disease and to bolster local health agencies and hospitals.

"Alarm bells must be rung," said Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat. "The warning signs are there, and we have to start preparing. The time for planning and thinking about it is past."

The money was approved as part of a $145 billion spending measure that covers health, education and labor programs. The overall measure, which cleared the Senate 94-3, will have to be reconciled with a similar bill passed by the House without the flu spending.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who is the architect of the overall spending measure, said Congress had been waiting for a flu response plan from the administration but he was willing to move ahead with the money as long as the guidelines for its use were flexible enough to allow for changes by the administration.

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