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Government Signs Contract for Bird Flu Vaccine

But Amount, Total Cost, and Date of Delivery Still Not Known

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.

Government studies conducted at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that two 90-microgram doses of the vaccine were needed to produce an effective immune response in humans. That dose is more than 12 times higher than the single 15-microgram dose usually needed for protection from seasonal flu.

The NIH is conducting more studies to determine how much the vaccine can be diluted while retaining its effectiveness, or what amount of other vaccine ingredients used to boost effectiveness will be required.

Until the studies are complete, company officials won't know how many vaccine doses will be available or what the final price per dose will be.

"It's so speculative right now that any number I give is sure to be wrong," Lavenda says.

Bush administration health officials have faced tough criticism from some lawmakers over the government's pandemic flu response plan. The plan was due for completion several months ago and was promised by officials no later than August, but it has still not been completed.

In an interview, CDC director Julie Gerberding, MD, said that officials have had to update the plan in light of this summer's vaccine trials and projected numbers of vaccine that will be available for the national stockpile.

"The plan has had to be modified and has evolved," she said.

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