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Senate Approves $8 Billion for Bird Flu Plan

Bill Funds Government Purchase of Vaccines and Flu Medications

Fighting Bird Flu's Spread continued...

But it is still unknown how many people could be protected with vaccines obtained from the two contracts. Both companies are making bulk forms of the vaccine, and researchers still don't know how large of a dose will be needed to confer protection against H5N1.

Government plans so far call for the amassing of 20 million vaccine doses along with 20 million courses of antiviral medications, including Tamiflu. The U.S. so far has stockpiled only 2.3 million Tamiflu doses, enough for less than 1% of the population.

Tamiflu manufacturer Roche said on Thursday that it would temporarily suspend private sales of Tamiflu in part because of concern that corporations were hoarding the drug for employees.

White House Plan

Bush is expected next week to unveil a long-awaited national bird flu preparedness plan. The plan is expected to include increased domestic vaccine production, buys of antiviral drugs, and protocols for prioritizing distribution of limited pharmaceutical resources in the event of an outbreak.

The plan will also include calls for state and local governments to come up with detailed action plans for use if H5N1 gains the ability to transfer from human to human. Some states already have such plans, Leavitt said.

"I think it is safe to generally characterize them as not adequate," Leavitt said. "Part of that plan is a question of how we deal with what would at this point be limited supplies of antivirals or vaccines," Leavitt said.

Hours later, the Senate voted to approve $8 billion for increased preparedness against a possible bird flu pandemic. The funding, part of a larger health spending bill expected to pass the Senate this week, more than doubles $3.9 billion already approved several weeks ago.

The plan originally faced opposition from some key Republicans, but opposition faded after supporters agreed to give the White House more authority over how the money would be spent.

"If the administration does come up with a good action plan, we won't have lost any time," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a sponsor of the bill.

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