U.S. to buy European flu vaccine

FDA will inspect plants, health secretary says

October 29, 2004|By Earl Lane | Earl Lane,NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON - The federal government has identified more than 5 million doses of injectable flu vaccine available from foreign manufacturers and an additional 300,000 doses that will be redistributed from supplies intended for federal employees, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said yesterday.

Thompson said that about 4 million doses are available from a manufacturing facility of GlaxoSmithKline in Germany and about 1.2 million doses are available from IDBiomedical's facility in Vancouver, Canada.

He said U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspection teams will visit the manufacturing plants to confirm the availability of the vaccine and assure that it meets U.S. standards.

If the vaccine eventually makes it to this country, patients who receive it would have to sign a form acknowledging they are aware their flu shots come from abroad, he said.

The administration has refused to approve widespread importation of prescription drugs, saying it can't ensure their safety. Sen. John Kerry and other Democratic candidates have used the issue to paint President Bush and the Republican Party as too cozy with drug manufacturers, which also oppose drug imports.

But with 48 million doses of flu vaccine, roughly half the anticipated U.S. supply, suddenly withdrawn from the market for bacterial contamination, the administration is scrambling to make up the shortage.

Lester Crawford, acting FDA commissioner, said that if all goes well, the supplies could be ready for shipment by early to mid-December. They would supplement the 58 million doses of vaccine expected from Aventis Pasteur, the sole remaining U.S.-licensed maker of injectable vaccine for this season, and 3 million doses of FluMist, a nasal spray flu vaccine appropriate only for healthy people.

Thompson also announced at a news briefing that 300,000 doses of flu vaccine purchased by the federal government for its workers will be redirected to the states for distribution to high-risk populations such as those over age 65, the chronically ill, pregnant women and children ages 6 months to 23 months.

Of those doses, 200,000 had been purchased for the military, which will replace them with FluMist. The other 100,000 come from Federal Occupational Health, an arm of HHS that serves federal agencies.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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