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DoD to extend anthrax contract through ‘09

By Gayle S. Putrich
Army Times

The Defense Department plans to extend its contract with the company that produces the anthrax vaccine through 2009 while waiting for a new vaccine to be developed and licensed by the Food and Drug Administration, said officials testifying before a congressional committee Tuesday.

While the Pentagon has antibiotics on hand in the event military personnel are exposed to anthrax, preventative vaccinations remain the preferred method of dealing with potential anthrax threats, said Ellen P. Embry, deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs for force health protection and readiness.

“Since 2002, BioPort has doubled its production capacity and delivered more than 8.4 million FDA-licensed doses of Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed to DoD. Inventory levels are sufficient,” she said.

The current contract with BioPort, based in Lansing, Mich., expires in September and the Defense Department is negotiating with the company for a new contract during fiscal 2007 to meet program requirements, Embry said.

A new contract would run through at least 2009, she added, depending on medical advances. A new anthrax vaccine is currently being developed, but Embry said the decision to switch to a new drug will depend on scientific findings and whether or not it would be a good business decision.

In the meantime, officials intend to continue administering the BioPort anthrax vaccine Adsorbed on a voluntary basis to service members.

While the Pentagon’s vaccine stores may be full, Embry’s civilian counterparts with the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services have had less smooth sailing with their vaccine purchases.

Testimony at the hearing from Gerald W. Parker, a Health and Human Services emergency preparedness administrator, showed that a contract with vaccine provider VaxGen has been changed, pushing the first delivery dates back to 2008 and final deliveries to 2009.

VaxGen, of Brisbane, Calif., blames the delay on problems with the potency of the vaccine, but insists the problems are close to being resolved. The $1 billion contract is supposed to provide enough drugs to protect 25 million people from anthrax infection.

Health and Human Services also is looking to double the length — and price — of an existing contract with BioPort.

BioPort delivered 5 million doses of the anthrax drug to the department in February under a $123 million contract signed a year ago. The extension would call for another 5 million doses from BioPort, with a $120 million price tag, and deliveries would begin as soon as possible and last through September 2007.