Government Signs Contract for Bird Flu Vaccine
But Amount, Total Cost, and Date of Delivery Still Not Known
Sept. 15, 2005 (Washington) -- The federal government says it has signed a
$100 million contract to buy the first round of vaccine against bird flu. It's
a critical part of the Bush administration's yet-to-be finalized response plan
for a possible pandemic.
The contract is the first move in a plan to stockpile enough vaccine to
protect 20 million Americans against bird flu. Neither federal officials nor
the vaccine's manufacturer yet know how many doses the U.S. will actually
receive for the money.
According to the CDC, bird flu viruses do not usually infect humans. But
several instances of human infections and outbreaks of bird flu have been
reported since 1997. Most cases of bird flu infection in humans are thought to
have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces, such
as cases that have occurred in Asia.
Since influenza viruses have the potential to change and gain the ability to
spread easily between people, monitoring and preparing for human infection and
person-to-person transmission is important.
The H5N1 bird flu strain has spread to humans from livestock and wild birds
in Southeast Asia but has so far shown only a very limited ability to spread
between humans. Public health experts consider person-to-person transmission to
be the key ingredient for what many have warned could be a catastrophic bird
The disease has sickened 112 people and killed 57 since December 2004,
according to the World Health Organization.
Fighting Flu With Antiviral Drugs
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says it bought 84,300
treatment courses of the antiviral (flu drug) Relenza from manufacturer
GlaxoSmithKline. Antiviral drugs can lessen the severity of flu if they are
taken within the first 48 hours after infection. The bird flu virus that is
circulating in Southeast Asia appears to be sensitive to the antiviral drugs
used against the flu.
"These countermeasures provide us with tools that we have never had
prior to previous influenza pandemics," HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt
said in a statement.
The vaccine contract between the government and manufacturer Sanofi-Pasteur
was actually signed on Aug. 19, according to Sanofi-Pasteur spokesman Len
Lavenda; the Bush administration did not announce the agreement until
The contract comes weeks after federal researchers announced that an
experimental vaccine against the H5N1 flu strain, the virus known to cause bird
flu, produced protection against the virus in humans. The company has already
begun production of a bulk form of the vaccine that is due for completion in
December, Lavenda says.
Dose Numbers Undetermined
Still, officials still don't know how many effective doses of the vaccine
will be attainable from the bulk form or when it will be ready for use in the
event of a pandemic.