In words that have come back to haunt him, Barack Obama as a U.S. senator in 2005 complained that President George W. Bush was not doing enough to fight a potential epidemic of Avian Flu.
“This nation must NOT be caught off guard when faced with a pandemic,” he said at the time. “The question is will we be ready…”
He called on his fellow senators to “push this administration to take action needed to prevent a catastrophe the likes of which we have not seen during our lifetimes.”
Yet, in a major address regarding the Ebola outbreak Obama gave at the CDC in Atlanta on Sept. 16, he downplayed the risk of Ebola coming to U.S. shores.
First and foremost, I want the American people to know that our experts, here at the CDC and across our government, agree that the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low. We’ve been taking the necessary precautions, including working with countries in West Africa to increase screening at airports so that someone with the virus doesn’t get on a plane for the United States.
Within virtually hours of that statement, a man now being treated in Texas for Ebola, in fact, got on an airplane and flew to the United States with Ebola.
At the time, Obama had said:
In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home. We’re working to help flight crews identify people who are sick, and more labs across our country now have the capacity to quickly test for the virus. We’re working with hospitals to make sure that they are prepared, and to ensure that our doctors, our nurses and our medical staff are trained, are ready, and are able to deal with a possible case safely.
In fact, reports document that the man in Texas felt sick and went to a hospital, but was turned away and sent back home, even though he had signs of the virus and recently had been in West Africa.
See Obama castigate the Bush administration from the Senate floor for not acting fast enough to prevent the Avian Flu, H5N1, from hitting the United States.
Obama’s 2005 speech urged the quick passage of the AVIAN Act that he introduced to the Senate in April 2005, a “comprehensive bill to increase our preparedness for an avian flu pandemic” that was introduced into a larger bill, the Pandemic Preparedness and Response Act, that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., co-sponsored.
“One year after publishing the draft pandemic flu plan, the administration has still not released the final HHS Pandemic Flu Preparedness Plan,” Obama said in his 2005 Senate speech. “Half of states haven’t published plans either, and we know that many of these states will need substantial help.”
Obama compared what he termed as Bush’s failure to prepare for an Avian Flu outbreak in the United States to what Obama characterized as Bush’s failure to prepare properly in advance for a natural disaster such as occurred with Hurricane Katrina, then fresh in the public’s memory.
“The failure to prepare for emergencies can have devastating consequences,” Obama continued. “We learned that lesson the hard way after Hurricane Katrina. This nation must not be caught off-guard when faced with the prospect of an Avian Flu pandemic. The consequences are too high.”
Then, Obama seemed to conclude Avian Flu coming to the United States was inevitable.
“We know that Avian Flu will likely hit the United States in a matter of time,” Obama said. “With the regular flu season coming up shortly, conditions will be favorable for re-assortment of the Avian Flu virus with the annual flu virus. Such re-assortment could lead to a mutated virus that could be transmitted efficiently between humans, which is the last condition needed for pandemic flu.”
The Avian Flu outbreak in 2005 ended up being most severe in Asia, with the United States largely spared a major impact.
Today, Obama’s reaction to the danger of Ebola, which reportedly has killed more than 3,000 in its current outbreak in West Africa, to the United States has been relaxed regarding the performance of his administration.
No less an Obama supporter than Chris Matthews was struck by the contrast, saying on air, “Obama said it was unlikely. It has happened. It’s here.”