HHS has announced the purchase of additional vaccine that could be used in the event of a potential influenza pandemic.
The department has awarded contracts totaling $199.45 million to three vaccine makers to manufacture 5.3 million 90-microgram doses of influenza vaccine designed to protect against the H5N1 influenza virus strain. The three awards include a $117.9 million contract to sanofi pasteur for 3.7 million doses, a $40.95 million contract to Novartis for 800,000 doses and a $40.6 million to GlaxoSmithKline for 800,000 doses.
"Having a stockpile of influenza vaccine that may offer protection against the H5N1 virus is an important part of our pandemic influenza preparedness plan," Secretary Leavitt said. "These contracts are a continuation of our aggressive multi-pronged approach to a potentially critical public health challenge."
At two 90-microgram doses per person, these purchases provide enough courses to vaccinate nearly 2.7 million people. Initial clinical studies of H5N1 vaccine in humans have shown that two 90-microgram doses of the vaccine are required to stimulate a level of immune response that researchers anticipate would provide protection for an individual against the H5N1 strains that have been spreading among birds in Asia. However, further clinical testing is underway, including the evaluation of techniques that may reduce the amount of antigen (active ingredient) per dose needed to achieve effective individual protection.
These newest vaccine purchases supplement the existing stockpile of 5.9 million doses of H5N1 vaccine and build on the department's plans to buy enough vaccine for 20 million people. This additional vaccine will be placed in the nation's Strategic National Stockpile where they will be available for use should an influenza pandemic occur.
HHS' effort to stockpile vaccine is part of a broader effort by the department to accelerate the development and production of new technologies for influenza vaccines within the U.S. Earlier this year, HHS announced a $1 billion investment to support the advanced development of cell-based production technologies for influenza vaccines and will help to modernize and strengthen the nation's influenza vaccine production by creating an alternative to producing influenza vaccines in eggs.
The H5N1 strain of avian flu has spread to more than 40 countries and has led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of additional birds, which has heightened concern about the possibility of a human flu pandemic. Furthermore, the number of avian flu cases in humans has reached more than 250 cases in 10 countries. More than half of those persons infected have died. To date, H5N1 avian influenza has remained primarily an animal disease, but should the virus acquire the ability for sustained transmission among humans, the potential for an influenza pandemic would have grave consequences for global public health.