U.S. to Pay Billions for Flu Vaccine Campaign

The U.S. government is ready to pay for any vaccination program against the H1N1 swine flu. It may encourage schools to help vaccinate children, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Thursday.

The government is also considering buying even more antiviral drugs, including more of GlaxoSmithKline's inhaled drug Relenza and pediatric doses of Roche AG's Tamiflu, officials told a swine flu "summit" at the National Institutes of Health, Reuters reports.

U.S. government officials and manufacturers are preparing to produce as many as 600 million doses of vaccine against the new H1N1 virus, an effort that would dwarf seasonal-flu campaigns. Officials must wait for the outcome of a series of clinical trials that will determine whether the vaccine is effective and if so, how many doses are needed, Wall Street Journal reports.

Meanwhile the Obama administration said yesterday that it has billions of dollars available to help pay for a national H1N1 flu vaccine program that could be ready starting in mid-October.

Sebelius said the government has “already appropriated about a billion dollars to buy the bulk ingredients” and has $7.5 billion more available in emergency preparedness funds. Sebelius said no final decision has been made on vaccination. The summit of federal and state health officials opened with a satellite appearance by President Obama, who was beamed into the meeting room at the National Institutes of Health from L’Aquila, Italy, where he is attending the Group of Eight summit.

“Although we were fortunate not to see a more serious situation in the spring when we first got news of this outbreak . . . the potential for a significant outbreak in the fall is looming,” Obama said. “We want to make sure that we are not promoting panic, but we are promoting vigilance, and preparation,” The Boston Globe reports.