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    Bush Meets With Vaccine Firms on Bird Flu

    Government Officials Attempt to Move Quickly to Counter Threat
    By
    WebMD Health News

    Oct. 7, 2005 -- President Bush met with vaccine manufacturers Friday in an effort to coordinate a strategy for preparing the country for a possible avian flu pandemic.

    The meetings came amid a week of flurried activity in Washington, over what public health experts have long warned as inadequate national preparedness for an outbreak.

    Vaccine makers are in the process of stepping up production capacity that could be used to manufacture an avian flu vaccine in the event of an outbreak. But the ramp-up is expensive, and manufacturers and public health experts are now asking for a list of government incentives to entice production.

    White House officials billed Friday's meeting as "a listening session" between the president and vaccine CEOs.

    "One thing that we need to focus on is our manufacturing capacity," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

    McClellan repeated White House support for greater lawsuit immunity for vaccine makers, a longtime goal of the industry.

    Beefing Up Vaccine Supply

    The Senate earlier this week passed $3.9 billion in spending targeted toward buying increased supplies of antiviral medications like Tamiflu. Experts consider such drugs a stopgap measure only if vaccine is unavailable.

    Reports have also suggested that Bush may back an even larger spending package meant to purchase larger stockpiles of vaccine, drugs, and medical equipment like respirator masks and gloves that would be needed in the even of a national emergency.

    "If there's a consensus view that more resources are needed, I have every expectation that the president would seek those," White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy tells WebMD.

    What's Next?

    Lawmakers introduced several bills this week providing a host of further incentives to vaccine markers, including large stockpiling programs and guaranteed purchase orders to protect firms from losses if they overproduce vaccine.

    One manufacturer, Sanofi-Pasteur, signed a government deal in August to deliver $100 million worth of vaccine against the avian flu strain H5N1. But the deal is only a small percentage of what would be needed to vaccinate the U.S. population in the event of a pandemic.

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