President George W. Bush summoned vaccine manufacturers to a White House meeting Friday, hoping to personally boost the rickety industry amid increasing fears of a worldwide outbreak of bird flu. It's the latest in a flurry of preparations for a possible pandemic after criticism of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. Senior administration officials also met with representatives from some 80 countries on Thursday night to compile an account of what is being done globally to prevent a pandemic, and to determine where exactly improvements are needed.
Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told the foreign health officials that preventing a pandemic would require a network of countries working together. And he said though a pandemic may be avoided this year, or next year, there eventually will be one, as there was in 1918, 1957 and 1968.
This month, vaccine maker Sanofi-Pasteur begins the first mass production of a new vaccine that promises to protect against bird flu, producing $100 million (82.9 million) worth of inoculations for a government stockpile.
But it would take months to create a new vaccine from scratch if a different strain of bird flu than today's known as H5N1 emerges. Even if the vaccine works, Sanofi is producing enough to protect anywhere from 2 million to 20 million people, depending on how much must be put into each dose, and it's not clear when or where similar large stockpiles could be made.
The nation has only three main manufacturers of vaccine against the regular flu that circulates each winter, reports the AP. I.L.