Amid flu worries, U.S. beefs up vaccine contracts

Some disturbing news on the flu front: Another study has found the H1N1 pandemic strain to be more virulent than seasonal flu, with greater ability to replicate within patients' throats and lungs and the ability to cause more lung damage. That's a pattern seen in the 1918 pandemic virus. The good news is that the study looked at animal models, so it may not hold true for humans.

All the more reason for vaccination, right? But adding to the flu worries is an announcement from the WHO, which says that vaccine makers are having limited success at growing the virus in chicken eggs. The growth efforts are yielding only 25 percent to 50 percent of that normal achieved with seasonal flu. A small number of manufacturers--namely AstraZeneca's MedImmune--that are using attenuated virus for their shots are getting better yields, however, the WHO said.

Regardless of the difficulties, the U.S. government is gearing up for its planned vaccination campaign. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (photo) said her department is setting aside $884 million to buy key ingredients for the vaccine, adding to existing contracts with Sanofi-Aventis, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis. The lion's share of that extra spending went to Novartis--$690 million--with $61 million for AstraZeneca, $61.4 million for Sanofi and $7.14 million for Glaxo.

- see the Reuters piece
- get more from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy
- read the article in the Wall Street Journal

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