BRIAN ROSS: The prospects have been so bleak that in planning sessions held in New York City, some veteran emergency preparedness officials have been overwhelmed.
MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: If we have a repeat of a 1918-like experience, I can't imagine anything to be closer to a living hell than that experience of 12 to 24 months of pandemic influenza.
ANNOUNCER: Up next, some good news. There is a medicine that can help you survive. But can you get it in time? When we come back.
ANNOUNCER: "Primetime." Once again, Brian Ross.
EMCEE, MALE: Mr. George W. Bush, president of the United States of America.
BRIAN ROSS: On the same stage where he has warned the world of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, President Bush this week warned the world must prepare for a new weapon of mass destruction, a global epidemic of killer flu.
PRESIDENT BUSH: If left unchallenged, this virus could become the first pandemic of the 21st century.
BRIAN ROSS: Are we prepared in this country today?
DR. IRWIN REDLENER: We're not even close to being prepared in this country. I mean, the short answer to the question are we prepared is absolutely not.
BRIAN ROSS: If that flu were to hit this country this winter, how bad?
DR. IRWIN REDLENER: If we had a significant worldwide epidemic of this particular avian flu, the H5N1 virus, I think we would see outcomes that would be virtually impossible to imagine, even to a world that has just witnessed some of the most horrible scenes of a natural disaster that any of us will ever see in our lifetimes.
BRIAN ROSS: For the victims, they at first wouldn't know if it's the kind of routine flu that comes every year or the killer flu called H5N1. If it's the killer flu, the world will stop, too.
MICHAEL LEAVITT, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: We'd do all we could to quarantine. We'd do all we could -- it's not a happy thought. It's something that keeps the president of the United States awake. It keeps me awake.
BRIAN ROSS: The man in charge of making sure this country is prepared for a killer flu epidemic is Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt, who took office just this January. The plan calls for him to run operations out of this crisis center in Washington.
MICHAEL LEAVITT: This is a very serious version of a disease that can literally take lives by the millions.
BRIAN ROSS: Is this country prepared today for this epidemic?
MICHAEL LEAVITT: Not as prepared as we need to be. We're better prepared today than we were yesterday. We'll be better prepared tomorrow than we are today. But no one in the world is prepared enough yet.
BRIAN ROSS: So the answer is, no, we are not prepared?
MICHAEL LEAVITT: Not as prepared as we need to be.
BRIAN ROSS: The draft report of the Federal government's own emergency plan, examined by "Primetime," predicts as many as 200,000 Americans will die within a few months, considered a conservative estimate.
LAURIE GARRETT: Well, the first thing is everybody in America is going to say, where's a vaccine? And they're going to find out that it's really darn hard to make vaccine. It takes a really long time, and they may queue up in demand, but it's not there for them.
BRIAN ROSS: In fact, the draft report says it won't be until six months after the first outbreak that any vaccine will be available, and then only in limited supply.
LAURIE GARRETT: And even that's optimistic.