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Jim Greenwood asks: How prepared are we for avian flu?

July 30, 2015
As a serious avian influenza outbreak continues to wreak havoc on poultry farms across the U.S., one question that is beginning to draw attention from lawmakers and others centers on our ability to respond should the virus begin to infect humans.

BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood explored that issue in an op-ed yesterday at The Hill:

The prospect of HPAI [Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza] spreading to humans recently drew the attention of bipartisan leaders on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, who wrote letters to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Health & Human Services (HHS) asking about the administration’s emergency preparedness in response to HPAI, including efforts to develop vaccines against the viruses. It’s an important question — and the answer is far from reassuring.

Vaccines and other medical countermeasures (MCMs) to respond to a pandemic influenza outbreak largely depend on federal funding for research, development, manufacturing and scale-up. This is done through a public-private partnership under the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority’s (BARDA) pan flu program, which contracts with the private sector to develop and manufacture pan flu countermeasures.

This partnership is currently in jeopardy due to a substantial decline in federal support. Influenza vaccine manufacturers are uncertain about the government’s commitment and cannot on their own sustain the capacities to respond in the event of a pandemic. From 2006 to 2013, there was robust funding for pandemic influenza preparedness, with $5.6 billion to implement the first two years of HHS’s Pandemic Influenza Plan and an emergency supplemental appropriation of $6.15 billion for the H1N1 pandemic. But these funds are now exhausted, and in recent years BARDA’s pan flu program has received only a tiny fraction of the previous level: $115 million in 2014 and $72 million this year. At that level, according to HHS, “BARDA will not be able to fund activities on newly awarded stockpile contracts that are required to maintain the existing stockpile program critical for a swift and nimble pandemic response.”

Read the full piece here.