A strain of avian flu known as H5N1 has killed at least 50 people in several Asian nations, including Vietnam and Thailand, and experts fear the virus could become adapted to humans and spread across the globe, similar to the 1918 flu pandemic that killed as many as 50 million people.
The Department of Health and Human Services previously announced plans to stockpile enough vaccine and anti-viral medications for 20 million people, and today’s announcement is part of that effort.
HHS said it awarded a $100 million contract to Sanofi Pasteur for a supply of vaccine still being developed that is designed to protect against infection with the H5N1 strain. In addition, GlaxoSmithKline was awarded a $2.8 million contract for 84,300 treatment courses of Relenza, an anti-viral medication that has been shown to be effective against the bird-flu strain.
Comparing it to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, [Dr. Andrew Pavia] said it’s similar to installing an effective levee system before a storm hits.
“You see the price tags up front and the politicians find reasons to spend the money elsewhere,” Pavia said, “but it has to be spent up front or the consequences of a pandemic will be much higher, and it’s not a matter of if, but when, a flu pandemic occurs.”
“Ultimately you would want to be able to vaccinate the whole population because historically pandemics come in waves and continue to come in waves,” Pavia said. “So you’re shooting for 280 or 300 million doses. Twenty million doses would just give you a head start” for vaccinating emergency responders and critical personnel, he said. In the meantime, vaccine product will have to be ramped up, and it can take six months or longer to make flu vaccines.
In practice, this reflects a core principle of Public Health services. You move the health of a whole nation to a higher priority than politics.