Aventis has cache of up to 90 million doses of smallpox vaccine

Mar 28, 2002 (CIDRAP News) – The French-basedpharmaceutical company Aventis Pasteur has a previously unreported cache of 70million to 90 million doses of frozen smallpox vaccine, the Washington Post reported today. If made available to the federal government,the supply would vastly expand the current US stockpile of 15.4 million doses.

Len Lavenda, a spokesman at Aventis's US headquarters inSwiftwater, Pa., said of the Postreport, "It's not 100 percent accurate, but it's close." He declinedto discuss details, but said the company will issue a statement and the USDepartment of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to hold a press conference,both on Friday morning.

The newspaper report said the Aventis vaccine has beenstored in freezers since it was made decades ago, but it did not specify alocation. The story said it was not clear just when or by whom the vaccinestockpile was discovered. The report also said unnamed sources revealed thatAventis is now negotiating with HHS to give the federal government access tothe supply. Issues in the negotiations are the costto the government and liability protection forAventis in case problems arise with the vaccine.

Two other companies, Acambis Inc and Baxter International,are currently working to produce a total of 209 million doses of smallpoxvaccine for HHS. Acambis won a contract in 2000 to produce 40 million doses;this was increased to 54 million doses after the Sep 11 attacks. Last November,Acambis won a $428 million contract to produce another 155 million doses by theend of this year. Acambis is collaborating with Baxter on that contract.

In other efforts to boost the US vaccine stockpile,researchers have been testing the possibility of diluting the existing vaccinefive-fold or ten-fold. HHS officials have said in recent weeks that the resultslook promising and will be published soon.

The Post report saidthe availability of the Aventis vaccine would buy time for the government'svaccine suppliers "to fine-tune some of the new vaccine candidates underdevelopment, instead of rushing effective but perhaps less-than-perfectvaccines into production as an emergency stopgap measure."

"It's a great insurance policy," said D. A.Henderson, director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness, as quoted inthe story.

The Post report saidthe Aventis vaccine is essentially identical to the vaccine in the existingstockpile, Dryvax, made by Wyeth. However, Dryvax is stored as a freeze-driedpowder, whereas the Aventis vaccine was frozen in its liquid form. A scientistsaid ongoing studies indicate that the Aventis vaccine is fully potent,according to the story.

See also:

HHS press release of Nov 28, 2001, on awarding of smallpox vaccine contract to Acambis Inc

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