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News Briefs

U.S. to Change Food Packet Color To Avoid Confusion with Bombs

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

The Pentagon announced Thursday it would change the color of airdropped food packets from yellow to blue after United Nations and human rights groups said they might be confused with the yellow canisters of unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs dropped in Afghanistan.

“It is unfortunate that the cluster bombs -- the unexploded ones -- are the same color as the food packets,” said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said both the packets and the bomblets were yellow so they would be easily visible.

“Unfortunately, they get used to running to yellow,” he said, noting the possibility that Afghan civilians might mistake a bomblet for a food packet. He said he did not know how long it would take to change the food packet color. “That, obviously, will take some time,” he said. “because there are many in the pipeline.”

But Human Rights Watch said the Pentagon should stop dropping the cluster bombs, which it said posed a particular hazard to civilians regardless of the color of the food packets. Because these weapons spread bomblets over such wide areas and because the bomblets frequently fail to explode on impact, Human Rights Watch said, they “cause unacceptable civilian casualties both during and after conflict.”

Hopkins Expert to Oversee U.S. Public Health Preparedness

THE BALTIMORE SUN -- BALTIMORE

Dr. Donald A. Henderson, founder of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies, was named Thursday to oversee the federal government’s response to public health emergencies, including the recent anthrax attacks.

His appointment as director of the newly created Office of Public Health Preparedness was announced Thursday by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

“Dr. Henderson brings a lifetime of preparation for the demands of this job, and we are fortunate to have him join the department on a full-time basis,” Thompson said.

Henderson, who is 73, directed the World Health Organization’s successful campaign to eradicate smallpox from 1966 to 1977 and later served as dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Henderson has directed the Johns Hopkins biodefense center for four years, working to raise awareness of the medical and public health threats posed by bioterrorism. Dr. Tara O’Toole, who has served as deputy director of the center, will immediately replace Henderson as director.

In addition to his new position, Henderson will continue to head a national advisory council on public health preparedness, a post to which he was recently appointed.

Panel Urges Creation Of Vaccine Facility

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

A federal commission recommended Thursday that the government create a facility to develop and produce vaccines to combat bioterrorism.

The panel, headed by Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, said a national laboratory is vital to respond to a massive biological attack.

“The private sector is unlikely to be the answer to some of the more difficult vaccine issues,” said the bipartisan panel, which was appointed by Congress in 1999. “Direct government ownership or sponsorship is likely to be the only reasonable answer for producing vaccines for certain bio-organisms -- anthrax and smallpox being at the top of the list.”

This summer, the Defense Department estimated that it would cost $1.56 billion to build a vaccine plant and run it for 25 years.

Only one company produces anthrax vaccine, but its factory has not been able to ship any doses for three years because of production problems. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to inspect the factory soon, and BioPort Corp. could resume shipments by month’s end.

Federal officials have awarded a contract to another company, Acambis, to produce 54million doses of smallpox vaccine.

The Health and Human Services Department is in the process of selecting other companies to produce 250 million more doses by next year. HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said his department had whittled its list to four candidates, and those companies must submit detailed proposals by Monday.

Civil Service Employees May Win 4.6 Percent Pay Increase

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

Congress has taken a giant step toward providing an average 4.6 percent pay increase for the civil service next year.

For federal employees, who have been roiled by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and an expanding number of anthrax cases, the pay raise provides a dash of good cheer.

A 4.6 percent raise, in ballpark terms, would be worth $3,025 to federal employees who earn $65,802 -- the average civil service salary in the Washington area. Exact pay numbers will be released near year’s end, after the Bush administration calculates city-by-city raises that take into account “locality pay” formulas.

House and Senate negotiators agreed to the 4.6 percent average raise last week. In a 399 to 85 vote Wednesday, the House approved the raise Wednesday as part of the fiscal 2002 Treasury Department, Postal Service and general government operations appropriations bill. After the Senate signs off on the bill, it will go to President Bush for his signature.