U.S. To Order Millions of Doses of New Avian Flu Vaccine
The federal government plans to purchase millions of doses of an experimental avian flu vaccine developed by Sanofi Pasteur that appeared effective in clinical trials, U.S. health officials announced on Monday, Long Island Newsday reports (Ricks, Long Island Newsday, 8/9).
Health officials on Saturday announced that the vaccine for the H5N1 virus -- which has spread among birds in Asia and Russia and also has infected more than 100 humans -- prompted an effective immune response in trials on healthy human volunteers. Additional trials of the vaccine will continue to determine the most effective dosage of the vaccine, the number of injections required to receive protection from the H5N1 virus and whether the addition of other ingredients could improve the potency of lower dosages (California Healthline, 8/8).
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, on Monday said that, based on the early trial results, the federal government will purchase more than the two million doses of the vaccine acquired from Sanofi Pasteur prior to the trials (Long Island Newsday, 8/9). U.S. health officials purchased two million doses of the vaccine earlier this year for the national stockpile (California Healthline, 8/9).
Fauci did not indicate the number of additional doses of the vaccine that the federal government will purchase. In addition, he said that health officials would administer the vaccine only in the event of a pandemic influenza that involves a mutated avian flu strain (Long Island Newsday, 8/9). Health officials also addressed concerns about the ability of vaccine manufacturers to produce an adequate supply of avian flu vaccine and regular flu vaccinations for the U.S. public. Fauci said, "It's unlikely we'll get as much as we want."
Bruce Gellin, director of the National Vaccine Program Office at HHS, said, "We have put out a request for proposals and are currently evaluating them from manufacturers to determine how much additional vaccine could be produced over the next couple of months so as not to interfere with flu vaccine for the upcoming fall or the following year's flu vaccine" (Manning, USA Today, 8/9).
Stephen Morse, founding director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at Columbia University, said that the U.S. could have fewer than "six months to prepare" for an influenza pandemic (Long Island Newsday, 8/9).
In related news, the New York Times on Tuesday profiled Margaret Chan, the new chief of pandemic influenza at the World Health Organization. According to the Times, Chan directed the WHO response to outbreaks of A(H5N1) in 1997 and SARS in 2003 and currently helps nations prepare for potential pandemic influenza. Chan said, "There is a cost for investing in pandemic preparedness but a much bigger cost for not investing in it" (Altman, New York Times, 8/9).
The announcement of an effective avian flu vaccine is "encouraging," but "it's also a reminder of how ill prepared the world is to cope with an influenza pandemic that could kill millions of people," a Times editorial states. According to the editorial, health experts have said that the development of a vaccine does not "guarantee ... success against a pandemic" because flu strains can mutate and production capacity for vaccines remains limited. Health officials also must "develop practical plans to administer vaccines and antiviral drugs to contain an outbreak," as well as disease surveillance systems, the editorial states, adding, "So keep your fingers crossed that no pandemic emerges for the next several years" (New York Times, 8/9).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.