Vax makers scramble as shortage stokes controversy

With the political pressure over the shortage of swine flu vaccine quickly reaching a boil, the world's biggest drug manufacturers are scrambling to reassure an anxious U.S. government that large supplies of H1N1 vaccine shots are on the way.

This morning Novartis issued a statement saying it will deliver about 30 million doses by the end of November. It has already shipped 7.5 million doses, the pharma giant adds, and is on track to fill its contract as scheduled. And AstraZeneca says it can make more H1N1 vaccine.

"The only vaccine we produce is (a nasal spray) made through MedImmune," an AstraZeneca spokesperson tells FierceVaccines in an e-mail. "What we have said is that we have the capacity to produce more of that product should there be demand for it, and we are in talks with the U.S. government about any interest (and if so how and when we might make it available to them)." AZ booked $152 million from swine flu vaccine sales in the third quarter.

GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty, meanwhile, told reporters that production yields for their swine flu vaccine are improving and should reach "full pace" in about four weeks. Witty also sought to distance himself from the controversy in the U.S. "To be honest with you, we are a little bit of a bit-part player in the U.S. flu scenario," Witty told Reuters, adding that Glaxo's contract for 7.5 million doses is only a "tiny fraction" of what the Americans have acquired.

Of course, none of this was supposed to happen. In a front-page article the New York Times details the careful preparations that went into pandemic response planning, with the president urging government officials to learn from past mistakes and make sure they weren't repeated. But that planning has only heightened the criticism being leveled at the new government now that shortages around the country have become the fodder for cable's 24/7 coverage.

- read the article in the New York Times