- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005


President Bush yesterday pressed pharmaceutical firms to speed up production of a bird flu vaccine, as senior officials from 80 countries met to discuss how to work together to limit the threat of a pandemic.

The president made it clear to the executives that he takes the threat of a pandemic seriously, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt said.

“We talked about the need for our discussions to not just be about the short term but the long term,” Mr. Leavitt said of the White House meeting. “We talked about the need for us to be looking at pandemic influenzas as well as the annual flu, and ways to integrate our approach to those two public health problems.”

Mr. Leavitt said the government’s goal is to increase capacity for annual flu vaccines to the point that companies could make a rapid transition to a pandemic flu vaccine if necessary.

Executives were concerned about greater protection from litigation. If healthy people suffer side effects from a vaccine, manufacturers can face huge lawsuits, Mr. Leavitt said.

“We’re going to have to deal with the indemnity issue,” he said. “Also, if we’re to build additional capacity with the speed necessary for readiness, we’re going to have to create a streamlined regulatory process for the development of new facilities.”

Mr. Leavitt said the government also would have to assure vaccine manufacturers that they’ll have a market for the extra product that they make.

Jean-Pierre Garnier, chief executive officer at GlaxoSmithKline, said the administration mainly wanted to hear from the manufacturers about what they could do to help.

“The president was quite happy with what he heard,” Mr. Garnier said. “There’s clearly a spirit of cooperation with the administration and with other governments throughout the world.”

This month, vaccine maker Sanofi-Pasteur begins the first mass production of a new vaccine that promises to protect against bird flu, producing $100 million worth of inoculations for a government stockpile.

Representatives from about 80 countries, meeting Thursday at the State Department, focused on prevention and containment of the virus.

Mr. Leavitt briefed reporters on the private conference before preparing to leave today on a 10-day trip to Southeast Asia, where he will gauge for himself various countries’ capacity to monitor the virus and prevent its spread.

The bird flu so far has killed about 60 people in Asia, mostly poultry workers. Millions of birds have been slaughtered to try to prevent the spread of the virus.

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