Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Keystone Cops place orders for bird flu vaccine

Here's a companion piece to the Russian bird flu reporting: flu vaccine reporting.

Repeat of Flu Vaccine Shortage Not Expected This Year (MissouriNet)
State health officials do not think we'll see the problems getting flu shots that we saw last year. Last year, the British supplier of about half of the nation's flu vaccine announced it as shutting down one of its factories and would ship no vaccine to the United States. The news led to rationing of vaccine until supplies improved in January. By then, many people had decided to tough it out. Some made it through the flu season without getting sick. The State Health Department says a major producer in this country is doing well. The English company's Liverpool plant is producing without problems now. And, there might be other sources. But the final word won't come until the FDA approves the vaccines.

Observation: This article is about current flu strains circulating in human populations. It says nothing about the bird flu vaccine, much covered in the press in the last few days. It might be predicted this would lead to confusion among readers, especially as our own government seemed a bit confused, having let a contract for half of the new bird flu vaccine to the very company that caused the shortfall of conventional flu vaccine last year (Chiron). Not surprisingly, Chiron has yet to come through with their experimental bird flu vaccine. The much hyped version was from competitor, Sanofi-Pasteur.

Avian Flu Vaccine Not Coming to Your Local Pharmacy (HealthDay News)
The good news of successful human trials of a vaccine to protect against avian flu was tempered late Monday by official assertions that the vaccine will not be issued like a regular vaccine and certainly will not be deployed at all in the immediate future.

Media reports earlier Monday that the vaccine will be distributed as early as next month were mistaken, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which oversaw the trials.

Observation: This doesn't contradict the story above. But I think a reader of both articles might come away slightly confused. The first article is merely stenography of a health department press release, not to be confused with real reporting. Not everything reported in a newspaper is reporting, of course. Sorry for the inappropriate standard. I guess I was confused.

Government to stock up on avian flu shots (Anita Manning, USA Today)
The government is planning to buy bulk supplies of an experimental vaccine shown to be effective against an avian flu strain that scientists fear could spark a pandemic. But how much of it can be produced, and when, is unclear, health officials said Monday.

"We have put out a request for proposals, and are currently evaluating them from manufacturers, to determine how much additional vaccine could be produced over the next couple of months so as not to interfere with flu vaccine for the upcoming fall or the following year's flu vaccine," said Bruce Gellin, director of the National Vaccine Program Office within the Department of Health and Human Services. He would not name the manufacturers.
Observation: This takes some careful reading. The government has put out a "request for proposals" for more of that successful experimental vaccine. Note it is not the case, as implied by some newspaper headlines, that the government actually ordered the vaccine. They just put out a request for proposals. They won't reveal to whom. But since there is only one company that makes it . . .

But then there's this, from that very company:

Sanofi Pasteur may be asked for vaccine against avian flu (The Times-Tribune, Pennsylvania)
Sanofi Pasteur in Swiftwater may be called upon by the government to make millions of vaccine doses to protect Americans against a potential outbreak of the avian flu virus, which has killed 50 people in Asia.

After successful clinical trials, the federal government is preparing to move ahead with mass production of a new vaccine made in Monroe County, a top government official said.

While no formal statement has been made, Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told the Associated Press that production on a U.S. vaccine stockpile for the bird flu could begin by mid-September.

Such a move would mean a multimillion-dollar contract with Sanofi Pasteur.

Len Lavenda, spokesman for Sanofi Pasteur, said he was happy to hear about Dr. Fauci’s comments but couldn’t comment on the results until they are released.

In May 2004, the government asked the local Sanofi Pasteur plant to make 8,000 doses of the vaccine for clinical studies. The government awarded it another $13 million contract to make 2 million more doses of the vaccine to determine whether it can be produced in advance and stored until needed, Mr. Lavenda said.

With the clinical trials’ supposedly favorable results, the government is likely to ask Sanofi Pasteur to produce more in case of an emergency, but no such request has been made so far, Mr. Lavenda said.

Whoops. Someone forgot to tell the supplier a big order was coming.

Anyone remember the old silent film series about The Keystone Cops?