GAO: Big delays in pandemic vaccine access

The GAO says that a pandemic vaccine can offer little help during the crucial initial stages of an outbreak. The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that it would take 20 to 23 weeks to develop and manufacture a vaccine targeted at a specific strain. And increasing access to antivirals--the second key strategy for dealing with a pandemic--would demand construction of new facilities and fresh sources of production material. The GAO also raised a red flag over Indonesia's refusal to make H5N1 samples available for research, fearing that they won't have easy access to any vaccines that would be made from them.

"The use of antivirals and vaccines to forestall the onset of a pandemic would likely be constrained by their uncertain effectiveness and limited availability," the GAO report says. To get the greatest effect from vaccines and antivirals, the officials suggest, rapid diagnostic tests would need to be available to identify people who have been infected. But test developers who have been given millions of dollars in government awards still need two to three years to deliver.

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