Smallpox vaccine negotiations include option to purchase millions more doses

Wednesday, November 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ As U.S. health officials wrap up negotiations to buy another 250 million doses of smallpox vaccine, they're also asking drug makers how much additional doses would cost if ever needed.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has said he expects to award contracts to begin making the vaccine this week.

The U.S. arm of a British firm, Acambis, already is making 54 million doses under HHS contract. The new contract will provide the government an additional 250 million doses. Thompson has said he wants enough vaccine for every American.

But his request for bids on the smallpox contracts also includes an options clause that asks for price information on additional doses, in increments of millions, up to a total of 250 million more.

The clause does not say if the government actually would purchase these additional doses, and HHS officials won't discuss the negotiations.

But in recent public comments, Thompson and smallpox specialists have said they expect a continuing relationship with whatever company is hired to brew the vaccine. That's mainly because the stockpile would have to be replenished promptly if any vaccine is used.

Thompson has asked Congress for $509 million for the vaccine, but said earlier this month that he may need more money because companies' bids were higher than anticipated. He hasn't said how high, but indicated they were above $2 a dose but less than $8 each.

Companies in the final running for the contracts include Merck & Co., GlaxoSmithKline, and a joint venture between Acambis and Baxter International.