WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Ranking Member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, urged federal authorities to provide leadership and resources in response to the threat of a pandemic flu.

Alarmed by reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt is telling local governments that they will be "on their own" during a flu pandemic, Kohl pressed the Secretary to describe what leadership role the federal government will provide in an emergency. "We need strong federal leadership and coordination to avoid the kind of mess we saw during Hurricane Katrina," Kohl said.

In response, Leavitt noted that the federal government was building an international and domestic network of laboratories to detect outbreaks and jumpstart vaccine development. He also said that his Department was creating "check lists" to help hospitals and local health departments respond to a flu emergency.

"Not a day goes by without an avian flu article appearing in one of our nation's newspapers," Kohl said. "Americans are aware of the threat, but many don't know what they can do to prepare -- particularly seniors. We must do a better job in telling older people what supplies and plans they need to have in place in the event of pandemic flu."

Kohl also urged Leavitt to consider the unique needs of seniors in the development and distribution of avian flu vaccine. At the hearing, Kohl cited a recent Baylor College of Medicine study which showed that people older than 65 may need four times the standard level of flu vaccine for effective protection.

"The elderly are among our most vulnerable members of society and are far too often overlooked -- or even ignored -- in our emergency response plans," Kohl said. "We must take into account the Baylor study as we develop an effective vaccine."

As Ranking Member, Kohl chaired a hearing last week on emergency preparedness for seniors. Seniors are particularly vulnerable during emergencies -- a point made clear during Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, where 71 percent of the people killed were older than 60. At the Aging Committee hearing, witnesses testified that seniors need more information to prepare for emergencies, first responders need better training to help seniors, and communities need plans to locate seniors who live alone during and after an emergency like pandemic flu.