- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

The U.S. government announced plans yesterday to develop a second vaccine for bird flu, which continues to spread in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt said the federal health agency authorized the creation of a vaccine for an additional strain of avian influenza that was found in Indonesia in October.

“In order to be prepared, we need to continue to develop new vaccines,” Mr. Leavitt said at an immunization conference in Atlanta.

The previous vaccine was made to protect people from a current bird-flu strain that came from a sample found in Vietnam in 2004.

HHS has 8 million doses of the first vaccine, which still will be stored in case the strain turns into a pandemic, said agency spokeswoman Christina Pearson. The health agency has spent about $250 million on creating and stockpiling the Vietnamese version of the vaccine.

The federal government also has 5.5 million doses of the anti-viral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza, which treat patients infected with bird flu, Ms. Pearson said.

The agency is not certain how much the new vaccine will cost or how many doses would be made, she said.

“Developing a vaccine doesn’t mean we will stockpile it to a great extent,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Dr. Fauci said his agency, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will lead the development of the new vaccine, which likely would include contracting with vaccine manufacturers such as Sanofi Pasteur.

The NIAID will conduct clinical trials on the Indonesian strain using several thousand virus samples, as it did for the first vaccine, Dr. Fauci said. The studies will help the government decide whether it should stockpile a vaccine for the Indonesian strain

“This is part of the government’s attempts to stay ahead of the curve,” he said.

The CDC, which has travel advisories warning Americans not to visit poultry operations in countries infected with bird flu, will provide surveillance of the strains and develop the “seed strain,” which will be used to make the vaccine, said agency spokesman Dave Daigle.

So far, seven countries in Asia and the Middle East have reported 174 human infections of the virulent H5N1 bird-flu strain, which resulted in 95 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the public-health arm of the United Nations.

While WHO has not raised its alarm level since initial outbreaks a few years ago, the spread of the bird flu in poultry and cats does raise the risk of human exposure and sets the stage for a potential pandemic, said spokesman Daniel Epstein.

Nations in Africa and Europe recently have been experiencing bird-flu outbreaks in their wild birds and domestic poultry.

Polish officials yesterday reported its first case of bird flu, saying laboratory tests found that two wild swans had died of the disease.

Austrian authorities also confirmed that avian influenza had spread from birds to at least three dead cats, which had tested positive for the virus. The report came one week after Germany said a dead cat in the northern part of the country tested positive for the H5N1 strain.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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