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Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Mike Leavitt today announced the purchase of vaccine and antiviral medications that could be used in the event of a potential influenza pandemic.
The department has awarded a $100 million contract to sanofi pasteur, the vaccines business of the sanofi-aventis Group, to manufacture avian influenza vaccine designed to protect against the H5N1 influenza virus strain, which has caused an epidemic of avian flu in Asia. The number of individuals who could be protected by the newly contracted vaccine is still to be determined by ongoing clinical studies. In addition, HHS has awarded a $2.8 million contract to GlaxoSmithKline for 84,300 treatment courses of the antiviral drug zanamivir (Relenza).
These purchases build on the departments plans to buy enough vaccine for 20 million people and enough 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.
These countermeasures provide us with tools that we have never had prior to previous influenza pandemics, Leavitt said. Never before have we possessed the wealth of knowledge on the problem and the ability to prepare for it. These new contracts are part of our aggressive, multi-pronged approach to planning for pandemic influenza.
Initial clinical studies of the sanofi pasteur 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 strain that has 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. The H5N1 strain is considered a potential threat that could lead to a global human influenza pandemic.
The agreement with GlaxoSmithKline will provide HHS with an initial supply of zanamivir, an antiviral medication that is effective in reducing the severity of symptoms of human seasonal influenza. This antiviral purchase builds upon HHS efforts to stockpile oseltamivir (Tamiflu), another antiviral medication that is effective in treating the symptoms of human seasonal influenza. The H5N1 virus that is circulating in Southeast Asia appears to be sensitive to the antiviral activities of these drugs. HHS has received the full shipment from this order.
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 -- including strategies and plans for effective coordination with response partners, public and private and timely communication with the public.
These investments are part of a comprehensive U.S. approach to prepare for an influenza pandemic. HHS supports pandemic influenza preparedness in several other areas such as enhanced surveillance in Southeast Asia and improved vaccine production methods and capacity. These measures can provide early warning and additional time for vaccine production should a pandemic emerge.