Senate Approves $8B To Fund Avian Flu Preparedness Efforts
The Senate on Thursday approved nearly $8 billion in funding to stockpile vaccines and antiviral drugs and prepare local health organizations for a possible flu pandemic resulting from avian influenza, the New York Times reports (Hulse, New York Times, 10/28). The $8 billion in emergency spending was approved by voice vote as part of the $604 billion Labor-HHS-Education spending bill (HR 3010) passed by the Senate.
Amendment sponsor Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the proposal is "more robust" than an amendment adopted last month by voice vote to the fiscal year defense spending bill (HR 2863) that would allocate $3.9 billion to flu preparedness. Harkin said the new proposal, which still must be approved by the House, would provide $3.3 billion for vaccine development; $3.1 billion for antiviral drugs; $600 million for state and local public health agencies' preparedness plans; $750 million for hospitals; and $185 million to help CDC address a possible outbreak (Swindell, CQ Today, 10/27).
The president would have discretion over how to use the funding with input from Congress (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/27).
Also on Thursday, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said current state plans for a possible flu pandemic are inadequate, adding that the Bush administration soon will release its final version of a national plan for responding to the potential threat. He said that if the H5N1 avian flu strain causes a pandemic, it would "require a coordinated, governmentwide response, including federal, state and local governments, and it [would] require the private sector and all of us as individuals to be ready" (Herrndobler, Contra Costa Times, 10/28).
Leavitt also asked for "greater transparency" among all nations to improve monitoring of the disease (Nesmith, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/28). He noted that stockpiling vaccines and antiviral drugs will not adequately prepare the U.S. for a pandemic and said the Bush administration is improving the nation's BioSense early warning system and helping local governments develop their own pandemic plans (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/27).
In related news, Leavitt on Thursday announced that HHS has awarded California-based Chiron a $62 million contract to manufacture avian flu vaccine, the Washington Post reports (Washington Post, 10/28). Chiron will produce the vaccine at its manufacturing plant in Liverpool, England (CQ HealthBeat, 10/27).
The Liverpool plant was shuttered last year after British regulatory authorities identified bacterial contamination problems. In the past year, Chiron has "implemented a massive clean-up of the plant" and has "regained clearance from British and U.S. authorities to distribute seasonal flu vaccine made there," the Contra Costa Times reports. Company officials said the plant is capable of manufacturing both avian flu and regular flu vaccines (Silber, Contra Costa Times, 10/28).
Chiron has said it will provide its avian flu vaccine early next year, according to HHS spokesperson Bill Hall.
Chiron spokesperson Alison Marquiss did not say how much profit the company will gain from the contract with the federal government, noting that the company is focused ensuring that it is "in the best position to protect people against a possible pandemic" (Johnson, San Jose Mercury News, 10/28).
In a news release, Leavitt said, "An influenza vaccine against the H5N1 virus is our best hope of protecting the American people from a virus for which they have no immunity. This contract will increase our stockpile of the vaccine and is a continuation of our aggressive multipronged approach to a potentially critical public health challenge" (CQ HealthBeat, 10/27).
The Chiron contract comes after a similar, $100 million agreement was reached between the federal government and Sanofi-Aventis (Washington Post, 10/28).
Together, the two contracts are expected to provide enough vaccine to protect several million U.S. residents. However, the exact figure remains unknown because researchers have not yet determined how many doses will be needed to provide protection against avian flu.
The Bush administration has set a goal of stockpiling enough vaccine for 20 million U.S. residents and enough antiviral drugs for another 20 million people. "Both targets are expected to be higher" in the new pandemic preparedness plan the Bush administration will release, the New York Times reports.
GlaxoSmithKline on Thursday also said it is working on a vaccine for pandemic flu and that it is hoping to win contracts to manufacture it with various governments (Pollack, New York Times, 10/28). Company officials added that GSK will increase production of Relenza, an antiviral that could be used to treat avian flu (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/28).
Other articles on Friday also examined issues related to avian flu. Summaries appear below.
AP/Las Vegas Sun: The AP/Sun looked at how doctors are seeking guidance from CDC on whether they should provide prescriptions for Roche Holding's Tamiflu to individuals seeking to stockpile the drug in preparation for a possible pandemic. According to the AP/Sun, some doctors' groups have advised against providing the drug to patients, but HHS spokesperson Christina Pearson said the matter is "under discussion," adding, "Right now, we're focused on the seasonal flu." Because of concerns about shortages resulting from companies and individuals creating their own stockpiles of Tamiflu, Roche on Thursday said it was temporarily suspending shipments of the drug to U.S. private suppliers (Tanner, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/28).
- Wall Street Journal: The Journal on Friday profiled Emmanuel Hanon, head of viral vaccines research at GSK, and examined the company's efforts to develop a vaccine that "might offer broad immunity" against "any human-to-human strain of H5N1 that may emerge." The article also examines efforts by other companies -- including Chiron, Britain-based PowderMed, Sanofi-Aventis and Roche -- to provide vaccines and drugs that could be effective at preventing or treating avian flu (Whalen et al., Wall Street Journal, 10/28).