Fauci: Don’t Blame the Drug Companies!

Nov 4, 2009 6:46pm

ABC News' Lisa Chinn reports: Why isn’t there enough H1N1 vaccine to prevent more Americans from getting the flu? 

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it’s because of there was a  perfect storm of events that created the shortage, or in his parlance, a “triple whammy.”  Fauci told Congress, “You start late through no fault of anybody.  That’s when the virus appeared.  You have a flu waiting for you when the kids go back to school and you have a slow grower.  That’s the issue.  That’s the issue."  

It turns out that the H1N1 grows quickly in human beings, but not so quickly in the eggs used to grow the vaccine.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says maybe we should haven’t been so quick to put out big numbers this past summer, saying, “With 20/20 hindsight, it’s clear that we should have been more skeptical about the projections being made, and we anticipated having five different manufacturers would provide more insurance than it has.”

While members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor, HHS, and Education appeared more than willing to blame manufacturers, the government’s representatives were having none of that.  Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN, said, “ There is a shortage because the manufacturers, the private sector, didn’t deliver as much as they thought they could."

But Dr. Anthony Fauci countered that with this explanation:

“I don’t want anyone to get the impression that it’s the drug companies fault that this has happened because the drug companies contracted with the government to get a certain amount of doses for the flu season, with that comes benchmarks of when you think they’ll be delivered.

The fact that they’re not has to do with what we’ve said over and over again during this discussion, Mr. Chairman, that the virus doesn’t grow very well.  It’s a misrepresentation to say it’s their fault that it didn’t grow very well.  It’s the nature of the biology of the virus that created an expectation that we thought there would be a certain amount. That expectation was shared with the American public, and it’s a disappointment, it’s frustrating.  I would hate to see it say ‘we did everything right, it’s the drug companies fault, because it really isn’t."

As for how much vaccine is available now, that’s 32.3 million doses, according to Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC.  How far away is that from our goal?  Do we even have a goal, asks Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-KS.  The answer to that is a little fuzzy. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci says that if everyone in the target group got the vaccine, that would equal 159 million doses.  But everyone doesn’t want it, so that’s not a good number.  On a good year, we get about 1/3 of the population under 65 to get a seasonal flu vaccine, says Frieden.  So what’s the answer?  Well…no one really answered that. 

The government committed to buying enough ‘bulk vaccine’ for 250 million doses, but as Dr. Lurie notes, “…not all of it needs to get filled and finished. … that was when we thought we were going to need two doses for everybody.”

So should we worry that we have enough or not?

Dr. Lurie says, “We are buying it as fast as the manufacturers can produce it.”

Dr. Frieden says, “We’re focusing on one week at a time.”

Stay tuned.

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