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US boosts bird flu vaccine stocks

This story is from our news.com.au network Source: AFP
From correspondents in Washington

THE US announced today nearly $US200 million ($A260 million) in deals to boost strategic stocks of bird flu vaccine to be used at the onset of an influenza pandemic.

The US Department of Health and Human Services awarded three contracts to major drug companies to produce 5.3 million, 90-microgram doses of vaccine designed to protect against the H5N1 influenza virus strain.

The deals included a $US117.9 million ($A153.6 million) contract with Sanofi Pasteur for 3.7 million doses; a $US40.95 million ($A53.3 million) contract to Novartis for 800,000 doses and a $US40.6 million ($A52.9 million) deal with GlaxoSmithKline for 800,000 doses.

At two apiece, the doses would be enough to vaccinate 2.7 million people at the outbreak of a flue pandemic.

"Having a stockpile of influenza vaccine that may offer protection against the H5N1 virus is an important part of our pandemic influenza preparedness plan," Health Secretary Mike Leavitt said.

"These contracts are a continuation of our aggressive multi-pronged approach to a potentially critical public health challenge."

The US is looking to build up enough supplies of a vaccine against the H5N1 avian influenza strain to immunise a 20 million-strong workforce at the threat of a widespread outbreak. It already has on hand 5.9 million doses.

The H5N1 virus erupted in poultry flocks in Asia in 2003 and has since killed more than 150 people worldwide.

Scientists fear the virus could mutate so that it could pass from human to human and trigger a deadly pandemic.