Billions budgeted for swine flu as programs launch

With the World Health Organization readying a declaration of a phase 6 pandemic alert for swine flu, scientists for the world's vaccine makers have gotten down to the business of developing a new vaccine and taking orders for tens of millions of doses.

The BBC reports that GlaxoSmithKline recently obtained a sample of the virus, setting in motion a chain reaction that should lead to shipments of a new jab this fall. GSK is providing 60 million doses of the vaccine, but British officials don't know exactly how many people that can protect.

AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit received a $90 million order for swine flu vaccine for the U.S. earlier this week. And U.S. lawmakers have been debating how much money to budget for the fight against the new flu. A House bill calls for $2 billion while a Senate bill sets the figure at $1.5 billion. But some legislators feel that the country will need to spend even more.

Of particular interest to researchers is how the swine flu virus is evolving. New samples of the flu are being gathered in Brazil as the southern hemisphere enters its flu season.

"The scientists will also be keeping a very close eye on whether the virus mutates," says Dr. Pim Kon, Glaxo's UK medical director. "The vaccine will be based on certain parts of the virus, so they'll need to see whether those parts change."

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ALSO: The death toll from swine flu has hit 26 in the United States with Michigan and Connecticut reporting their first fatalities on Wednesday. Report 

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