U.S. requesting 300M smallpox vaccines
By Julie Appleby, USA TODAY
The U.S. government wants to order 300 million doses of a new smallpox vaccine, more than seven times the number originally requested, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Wednesday.
Thompson has asked British firm Acambis to produce 54 million doses, up from its contract for 40 million, and is negotiating with other drug manufacturers, including giants Baxter and Merck.
Officials at Baxter and Merck said they are providing scientific and technical assistance, although neither company is working to produce a vaccine.
The surprise announcement came during a press conference at which Thompson and other health officials repeatedly asserted that the USA has plenty of antibiotics with which to fight anthrax.
Earlier, Thompson asked Congress for $1.5 billion for bioterrorism efforts, including $509 million to speed development of a smallpox vaccine and $643 million to expand an antibiotic stockpile.
Although 300 million doses would be enough to vaccinate the entire U.S. population, Thompson did not call for routine vaccination.
"Right now all we're doing is preparing the supplemental appropriation to purchase the 300 million doses," Thompson said.
The secretary also said pharmaceutical industry leaders have "assured us they would work to meet the demand the government might have for medicines in an emergency." Bayer has already tripled production of its anthrax treatment Cipro, expecting to make 200 million tablets during the next 60 days.
Acambis was scheduled to deliver the smallpox vaccine in 2004. Thompson says it will be ready next year, although some vaccine experts question whether it can be done that fast.
Routine smallpox vaccination ended in 1972, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention retains a stock of 15.4 million doses of vaccine from that era. Tests are under way to see if the old stocks of vaccine can be diluted to increase the supply to about 77 million doses.