Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says Vice President Joe Biden clearly hasn’t done his homework on the swine flu. Biden told NBC this morning, he’s advising his family to stay off commercial airlines and subways, noting, if one person sneezes on a plane, "it goes all the way through the aircraft."
Harkin says that’s simply not accurate and is just the sort of thing that can whip people into a panic when they hear of a pending pandemic. "I think that’s a very unfortunate statement by the vice president," Harkin says. "We just don’t need that kind of misinformation going out. I wish the vice president had checked with the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Preparedness before he made such a statement."
Harkin says the World Health Organization has issued a Phase Five Alert, which suggests a worldwide pandemic could be imminent. Harkin chaired an "emergency meeting" of his Health Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday and heard from a host of medical experts about the flu outbreak. Even with all the advice, he says prevention boils down to simple hygiene.
"The best thing to do is basically to wash your hands very often, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze with a handkerchief or tissue paper, I say that to everybody," Harkin says. "As far as not riding on subways or planes, we’re not going to shut down our system and that doesn’t get to the nub of the problem anyway."
Two possible cases of H-1-N-1 have been identified in Iowa and state health officials expect to have confirmation on them today. The question that sparked the comments from Vice President Biden was about how he’s advising members of his family to react to the outbreak. Harkin was asked the same question.
"Actually, my daughter did call me and asked me about this," Harkin says. "She’s in law school, just finishing up. I said, ‘Wash your hands a lot, if you sneeze cover your mouth. If others around you are sneezing, cover your face or ask them to do so.’ That’s the best thing you can do."
Harkin says he had included $870-million for pandemic preparedness in the massive stimulus package earlier this year, to stockpile antiviral medications and medical equipment while improving the public health infrastructure. "Regrettably," he says, "it was taken out in the final bill."
Both Harkin and Biden are Democrats.