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HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced last week the purchase of additional vaccine that could be used in the event of a potential influenza pandemic.
The department has awarded a $62.5 million contract to Chiron Corporation to manufacture an avian influenza vaccine designed to protect against the H5N1 influenza virus strain, which has caused an epidemic of avian flu in Asia and has recently spread to Europe. The number of individuals who could be protected by the newly contracted vaccine is still to be determined by ongoing clinical studies.
An influenza vaccine effective against the H5N1 virus is our best hope of protecting the American people from a virus for which they have no immunity, Leavitt said. This contract will increase our stockpile of the vaccine and is a continuation of our aggressive multi-pronged approach to a potentially critical public health challenge.
This purchase builds on the departments current plans to buy enough H5N1 influenza vaccine for 20 million people and enough influenza antivirals for another 20 million people. These supplies of vaccine and antiviral treatment will be placed in the nations Strategic National Stockpile where they will be available for use should an influenza pandemic occur. Last month, HHS awarded a $100 million contract to sanofi pasteur, the vaccines business of the sanofi-aventis Group, for avian flu vaccine.
Developing an effective avian influenza vaccine is a key element of a comprehensive U.S. approach to prepare for an influenza pandemic that includes improved vaccine production methods and stockpiling of antivirals.
Earlier this year, Leavitt established an HHS-wide Influenza Task Force to coordinate all HHS activities affecting the public health preparedness for seasonal influenza outbreaks and an influenza pandemic. Long-term objectives include an effective and efficient global surveillance network for outbreaks of influenza-like illness in humans and animals, and interoperable local, state, and federal government response plans for influenza outbreaks within the United States. The task force is also developing strategies to effectively coordinate with response partners, both public and private and insure timely communication with the public.