NEWS SCAN: Smallpox drug contract probe, childhood vaccine opt-outs

Nov 28, 2011

Senator seeks probe of federal contract for smallpox antiviral
The head of a Senate subcommittee that oversees government contracts has asked for a review of a $433 million federal contract for an experimental smallpox drug, according to the Los Angeles Times. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asked the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services to review the contract awarded in May to Siga Technologies for its antiviral drug known as ST-246, the story said. McCaskill is chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. Her request followed a Nov 14 Times report that raised questions about the handling of the sole-source contract. That story said the price of $255 per dose of the drug was well above what federal officials earlier said was reasonable. Also, the contract was originally intended for a small business, but the Obama administration decided to award the work to Siga, a large company, on grounds that it was deemed the only firm able to deliver a product in 5 years, according to the Nov 14 story. The report also said that the controlling shareholder at Siga is billionaire Ronald O. Perelman, a longtime Democratic Party donor. Siga, in a written statement Nov 23, said that a review of the contract would show it was "fair and reasonable" and was "negotiated in good faith in accordance with all applicable law to address an important national security need," according to the Times.
Nov 23 LA Times story
Related Nov 14 CIDRAP News item

Exemptions to childhood vaccines grow
Rates of exemptions to childhood vaccination have topped 5% in eight states, according to results of an Associated Press (AP) analysis published today. The states and exemption rates for kindergartners included Alaska, 9%; Colorado, 7%; Minnesota, 6.5%; and Vermont and Washington, 6%. Oregon, Michigan, and Illinois were reported to be "close behind." Mississippi, in contrast, had the lowest rate, at essentially 0%. For its analysis, the AP asked state health departments for kindergarten exemption rates for 2006-07 and 2010-11 and also analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report also cited pockets in some states where exemption rates are much higher, such as some rural counties in northeastern Washington where rates have even hit 50%. "Vaccine refusers tend to cluster," said Saad Omer, an Emory University epidemiologist and vaccine researcher. The AP also found that vaccine exemptions rose in more than half of states, and 10 had increases of about 1.5 percentage points or more.
Nov 28 AP report
In related news, 77% of Washington state pediatricians said that parents sometimes or frequently ask them for alternative childhood immunization schedules (ACISs), according to a study released today by Pediatrics. Seattle researchers surveyed 209 state pediatricians and also found that 61% were comfortable using ACISs if parents requested them. However, they said they were least willing to use an ACIS for diphtheria–tetanus toxoids–acellular pertussis vaccine, Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine, and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. Douglas J. Opel, MD, MPH, one of the study authors, said, "There needs to me more research into the effectiveness and safety" of ACISs, according to a HealthDay News article today. On Oct 3 the same journal published a nationwide survey that showed that 13% of parents follow an ACIS.
Nov 28 Pediatrics abstract
Oct 4 CIDRAP News story on earlier survey

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