U.S. government takes threat of bird flu pandemic seriously; spends $25 billion for medical countermeasures

By John Keller
Posted by John Keller

Evidently the U.S. government is taking the threat of a global bird flu pandemic very seriously, as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded five contracts collectively worth as much as $25.36 billion for medical countermeasures to the H5N1 avian influenza virus.

There is ample reason to take the threat of an H5N1 bird flu pandemic seriously, too. Over the last decade there have been 608 confirmed cases of H5N1 in humans, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. Of those, 359 died; that's nearly a 70 percent mortality rate.

Of those confirmed cases of H5N1 and their resulting deaths, most have been in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Egypt. No cases have been reported in the U.S. -- yet.

To keep any potential H5N1 bird flu pandemic in check, HHS officials on 4 Sept. awarded contracts potentially worth $9 billion to Novartis Vaccines and Diagonostics Inc. in Boston; $8.2 billion to MedImmune LLC in Gaithersburg, Md.; $4.7 billion to Sanofi Pasteur Inc. in Swiftwater, Pa.; $2 billion to GlaxoSmithKline LLC in Philadelphia; and $1.5 billion to CSL Biotherapies Inc. in King of Prussia, Pa.


All contract awards are the maximum amount possible. The contract duration is three years with options for two additional years. Awarding the contracts was the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

The companies will provide the U.S. government with vaccines, support, and medical storage not only for pre-pandemic medicine to help prevent the spread of the H5N1 virus, but also for medicines to treat the virus after it is contracted to alleviate symptoms and prevent deaths.

U.S. health officials are determined to blunt the effects of any potential H5N1 avian influenza pandemic, which could overload hospitals, threaten children and the elderly the most, and could threaten the working of the military and government agencies if large numbers of employees were to be incapacitated by the virus.

Three severe flu pandemics spread throughout the world in the 20th century, the most recent of which was the 1968-1969 Hong Kong Flu pandemic, which involved the H3N2 virus, and is estimated to have killed 1 million people.

In 1957 and 1958 an Asian Flu pandemic involving the H2N2 virus killed an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people. The 20th century's worst flu outbreak was the 1918 to 1920 Spanish Flu pandemic, which involved the H1N1 virus and killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

January 2014
Volume 25, Issue 1
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