HHS Awards $428M Smallpox Vaccine Contract to Acambis
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson yesterday announced the signing of a $428 million contract for 155 million doses of smallpox vaccine by next fall, which combined with other orders and existing stocks, "should be enough to protect every American against the deadly virus," the New York Times reports (Stolberg/Petersen, New York Times, 11/29). Acambis, a British biotechnology company with U.S. headquarters in Massachusetts, was awarded the contract, and will work with Baxter International to produce the vaccine (Sanders, Los Angeles Times, 11/29). Thompson announced the plan to purchase enough vaccine for every American last month, but it originally called for the government to buy 300 million doses. Instead, the contract for 155 million doses will supplement previous orders with Acambis for 54 million doses. In addition, the NIH is conducting experiments to test whether the nation's current stockpile of 15.4 million doses can be diluted to increase that supply to 77 million, which would bring the total number of available doses to 286 million. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the dilution tests, which will be completed in February, "have been very gratifying." The government does not plan to immunize all Americans against the disease, but instead will stockpile the vaccine in the event of a bioterrorist attack involving smallpox (New York Times, 11/29). "While the probability of an intentional release of the smallpox virus is low, the risk does exist and we must be prepared," Thompson said (HHS release, 11/28).
The final competitors for the new contract were Acambis, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline. Thompson said he chose the small British firm because it will charge less for the vaccine and will be able to deliver the doses more quickly than the other companies, the Boston Globe reports. The agreed price of $2.76 a dose that Acambis will receive was "substantially less" than the two competitors sought, Thompson said, and means that the government will have to pay less than the $509 million initially proposed by the administration for the contract (Kowalczyk, Boston Globe, 11/29). Under the new contract, Baxter, a global drug and medical products conglomerate that owns a stake in Acambis, will produce the vaccine at one of its facilities in Austria, and then ship it to Acambis in the United States, where it will be placed into vials (Connolly/Gillis, Washington Post, 11/29). Thompson said the FDA would "carefully monitor" the production process of the vaccine, and "test individual lots to ensure safety and effectiveness," (Loyd, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/28).