This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Nov. 1, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If an influenza pandemic strikes, every nation, and every state in this union, and every community in these states must be ready.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: That, of course, President Bush today outlining a plan to combat bird flu. Joining me now is the administration’s point man on this issue, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.
Mike Leavitt, glad to have you here.
MIKE LEAVITT, HHS SECRETARY: Thank you very much.
HUME: Mr. Secretary, as a resident of this country today, what would I have to do to get bird flu (search)?
LEAVITT: As the president pointed out, no one in this country has it, no bird has it. You would have to be exposed to a bird that had the virus and likely handle it, not eat it.
HUME: So I’d have to, like, go to Asia and handle a sick bird?
LEAVITT: That’s right. There have been 121 people who have contracted this virus. Almost all of them got it when they handled a sick bird. I was in a family actually — I met a family that got the virus. And they got it cleaning birds that were sick that they’d been told to destroy.
HUME: Now, the great worry, of course, is that it becomes communicable human-to-human, which it so far has not, correct?
LEAVITT: That’s correct.
HUME: How likely is it that that mutation of the virus will occur?
LEAVITT: I wish I knew that answer. It is maddeningly uncertain. We have had three pandemics in this century, 1918, 1957 and 1968, and they all followed the similar pattern where viruses that were either in birds, or animals, or people did what scientists call re-assort and create a new virus that no one has immunity for.
And that’s when — when that virus has the capacity to go from person to person to person, it’s when it sets off this geometric expansion of disease. And it’s a very dangerous situation. It’s something that’s been with us for centuries. And it will likely continue.
HUME: No known vaccine for this?
LEAVITT: The good news is we do have a vaccine. The bad news is, we don’t have capacity to manufacture it in enough quantity.
HUME: You said we have a vaccine. Do we have a vaccine that can prevent one getting it or simply a vaccine in which it can be treated, or what?
LEAVITT: A vaccine that can prevent one from getting it. There was actually a person in Vietnam (search) who had contracted it. We got an isolate. And the scientists at NIH (search) were able to create a vaccine that will produce an immune response sufficient to prevent the disease. That’s very good news.
HUME: So how long will it take to reproduce the vaccine in sufficient quantities to treat the people in this country?
LEAVITT: That’s the rub. We don’t have sufficient manufacturing capacity to come anywhere near what we would need to vaccinate everyone in America. And that’s what the president has said. We need to go on a robust effort as a country to produce vaccines.
Now, if the virus continues to mutate, the vaccine we have today may not be effective on the vaccine that ultimately triggers a pandemic. So the objective here is to create capacity to identify and then make a vaccine within six months to vaccinate Americans.
HUME: So what we have is a vaccine that would prevent one from getting this rather difficult to catch form of the flu that’s out there now, that you have to basically come in close contact with a sick chicken or other bird to get, right?
LEAVITT: Exactly right.
HUME: All right. So we don’t really have — if it mutates, we’ll be starting all over again to find a vaccine, correct?
LEAVITT: But it would be a cousin of this virus. And there’s every reason to be confident that we could develop a vaccine that would, in fact, inoculate one against the disease.
HUME: So the problem is the ability, once we have vaccine in hand, and has been developed to reproduce it in sufficient quantities, to deal with a population this size?
LEAVITT: That’s the objective the president has given us. And that is to establish sufficient manufacturing capacity to identify the virus and manufacture enough in six months for every American.
HUME: Well, we’re dependent, then, are we not, on the private sector for this? Or are we going to create government factories?
LEAVITT: We’re going to work with the private sector to revitalize that industry. They will have to bring capital and intellectual property to the table, but the government needs to step up, because we have a compelling national interest to assure that we have this capacity. And we don’t even have the capacity to produce the annual flu vaccine that we need.
HUME: I know that. Now, and the reason for that, in part, has been that being in the flu virus business has not been such a good business proposition, because some years you can sell a lot of it and some years you end up destroying the stuff, having invested in it, correct?
LEAVITT: That, plus the lawsuits. Vaccine manufacturers need to have the certainty there will be a market. And they need to be protected from liability, unless they are in some way egregiously negligent.
HUME: And this presumably will all be incorporated in the legislation that he’ll be asking for from Congress?
LEAVITT: That’s correct.
HUME: And in addition, he’ll be asking for something, some $7 billion?
LEAVITT: Seven billion dollars. The bulk of it, $4.7 billion, will go for vaccines; $1.4 billion would go for anti-viral medicines that is effective when a person has taken it or has contracted the virus already. And the balance of it will go for...
HUME: You’re talking about something like Tamiflu (search), which is...
LEAVITT: Tamiflu is an example. Yes.
HUME: You’re talking about another strain of that kind of medication?
LEAVITT: Tamiflu is effective, or at least partially effective. We don’t know how effective it is against the virus.
HUME: Against this virus?
LEAVITT: That’s right. But it’s the best thing we have now.
HUME: And we don’t have much of that either, though, do we have enough of that?
LEAVITT: Well, we have ordered about five million courses of Tamiflu.
HUME: Five million?
LEAVITT: But the president — that’s right — the president has indicated or has proposed about $400 million to create new and better anti-virals that will provide us with some certainty.
HUME: Let me just come at you as journalists get to do, from an entirely different perspective now. You’re talking about a disease that no one in America has, that infects chickens but not in this hemisphere, certainly not in the northern part of this hemisphere at this stage, which cannot be transmitted yet from human to human. And we’re talking about $7 billion and dragooning the drug industry into going along with all of this.
Couldn’t you argue that that’s an overreaction?
LEAVITT: Perhaps some will. But let me give you some sobering facts. The last time we had a pandemic on this genetic strain of a virus was in 1918. It killed over 40 million people around the world. It killed the equivalent of two million people here in the United States.
HUME: Wow. Secretary Leavitt, good to have you. Thank you very much for coming. Hope you’ll come back.
LEAVITT: Thank you.
Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EDT.
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