Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
HHS Announces Contracts To Develop ‘Safer’ Smallpox Vaccines For Use in Immunocompromised Patients
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Tuesday announced two contracts for the development of "safer" smallpox vaccines, which could be used to protect people with compromised immune systems (HHS release, 2/25). As part of its smallpox vaccination plan, the administration discourages people living with HIV/AIDS, eczema, atopic dermatitis and cancer, as well as pregnant women and organ transplant patients, from receiving the vaccine. Cambridge, Mass.-based Acambis and Bavarian Nordic in Copenhagen, Denmark, will receive a total of $20 million to grow "modified vaccinia Ankara," or MVA, virus -- "a severely crippled version of the microbe used as a smallpox vaccine" -- and test it on animals and healthy volunteers, the Washington Post reports. Gordon Cameron of Acambis said that the first studies should be completed by the end of the year. The companies will begin studies in immunocompromised patients next year, according to the Post. However, the government plans to order 30 million doses of the new vaccine before those studies are complete for individuals who "could not use the traditional vaccine in the unlikely event that smallpox ... reappears" (Brown, Washington Post, 2/26). Thompson said, "To protect ourselves from the remote but extremely grave threat of a deliberate release of smallpox virus, we need a vaccine that can be safely given to all Americans, including individuals with weakened immune systems, children and pregnant women. The new contracts will help us meet this need by accelerating research on second-generation smallpox vaccines" (HHS release, 2/25). Mark Feinberg, an Emory University HIV/AIDS researcher, said, "Whether at the end of the day there will be an effective vaccine to protect [people with comprised immune systems], I don't know," adding, "Coming up with an effective vaccine to protect immunodeficient people will be a difficult task" (Washington Post, 2/26).
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