HHS to Select Smallpox Vaccine Contract Winner
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said yesterday he expects to sign a contract with pharmaceutical companies this weekend to purchase enough smallpox vaccine to inoculate "every man, woman and child" in the United States, the Washington Post reports. While the government has already ordered 54 million doses of vaccine, Thompson said he plans to order 250 million doses. Smallpox was eradicated in the 1970s, but the administration's effort to vaccinate all Americans took on new "urgency" when Donald Henderson, director of the Office of Public Health and Preparedness and a "leading smallpox authority," said it was possible that former Soviet scientists were helping nations such as Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea produce a "weaponized" smallpox virus. Yesterday, Henderson said that while he would not support a "widespread mandatory vaccination," the vaccine should be available in case of an attack. Currently, the government has about 15.4 million doses of an older smallpox vaccine stockpiled, but the Post reports that researchers say it may be possible to "dilute" those doses to vaccinate 50 million to 77 million people (Connolly, Washington Post, 11/7).
While Thompson had "previously predicted" that stockpiling the vaccines would cost the government $509 million, yesterday he told the Office of Management and Budget that the cost would likely be higher, without specifying what the cost would be, the New York Times reports (Bradsher, New York Times, 11/7). Thompson's initial budget request was based on a price of about $1.70 per dose, but the prices being offered by drug companies are around $8 per dose (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 11/7). Thompson said, "The proposals are all below $8, but they are much higher than I had anticipated" (New York Times, 11/7). The Post reports that Thompson has warned the White House that the cost of the vaccine could "quadruple" his original $509 million request. Such a price would equal HHS' "entire $1.9 billion bioterrorism budget." While Thompson was "disappointed" with the bid proposals, he "hop[ed]" to secure a lower price during final negotiations this Friday (Washington Post, 11/7).
American Home Products, which was "in the running" last week for the contract to produce the vaccine, was eliminated yesterday, the Newark Star-Ledger reports. While Thompson yesterday said "one company" was eliminated from consideration, he did not offer specifics. However, AHP spokesperson Doug Petkus "confirmed" that the company contract was "rejected." While AHP is an "active player" in the vaccine field, the Star-Ledger reports that the company has been criticized for not producing enough flu vaccine for the coming winter (Silverman, Newark Star-Ledger, 11/7). A task force appointed by Thompson is reviewing bids from the three remaining companies to produce the vaccine and also is "debating safety, efficacy" and the possibility of clinical trials (Washington Post, 11/7). While 10 companies applied for the contract, that number has been "whittled" to three: GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co. and a joint venture of Acambis and Baxter Healthcare Corp. The panel plans to make recommendations to Thompson on Thursday, and Thompson will meet with company executives Friday (Los Angeles Times, 11/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.