- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The government said yesterday that it is purchasing up to 4 million German-made flu vaccines, after checking to ensure the doses are safe.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said that to make up for a shortage in the United States, the government is purchasing 1.2 million doses of the flu vaccine Fluarix from GlaxoSmithKline. The company will make about 3 million more doses available as needed. The process was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“The bottom line is that this is more good news on the flu front,” Mr. Thompson said. “It will allow us to get more vaccine into the hands of those who need it most.”

But some lawmakers said the announcement — although it was welcomed — was hypocritical because the government has refused to allow importation of cheaper prescription drugs.

“Today’s announcement underscores the inconsistencies of the FDA,” said Rep. Gil Gutknecht, Minnesota Republican and sponsor of a House-passed bill that would allow citizens and pharmacists to buy cheaper prescription drugs from 27 countries. “The agency has told American consumers time and again that it is unsafe to import prescription drugs from other industrialized countries, yet they are simultaneously importing 4 million flu vaccinations.”

After losing much of the anticipated U.S. flu vaccine supply when a British plant was shut down because of contamination problems, the FDA turned to GlaxoSmithKline. The agency inspected the company’s manufacturing processes before approving the flu vaccine as an “investigational new drug.”

Mr. Thompson said the drug importation sought by Mr. Gutknecht is “completely a different subject,” because if drugs were imported by citizens or pharmacists they would not be inspected thoroughly by the FDA.

Many on Capitol Hill and across the country want the government to allow pharmacists and citizens to buy cheaper prescription drugs from other countries. The government has refused but has been studying the issue this year to determine whether there is some way to do so safely.

The government’s final report on the issue was supposed to be sent to Congress today, but Mr. Thompson said yesterday that he won’t be able to read the report and make it public for about a week.

Mr. Gutknecht and several other supporters of drug importation hope the administration’s delay in releasing the report, coupled with its purchase of German-made vaccines and the near-unanimous support for drug importation among newly elected Congress members, means the administration will allow drug importation.

“It makes us wonder if the administration is re-evaluating its position,” said a joint statement by Mr. Gutknecht; Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat; and other members. “The American people are looking to Congress to pass importation legislation.”

The FDA also is in talks with vaccine manufacturers in Canada and Switzerland.

About 61 million flu vaccine doses have been available this season. The new supply will be directed to those who need it most, such as senior citizens.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide