US President, George Bush, held meetings with the heads of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers last Friday to seek their aid in developing an effective response to the threat of an influenza pandemic.

The meetings came during an international conference held to discuss ways to combat a potential influenza pandemic, which many experts believe could be just around the corner and could kill millions. The conference, hosted by the US State Department, brought together 80 national and international agencies in an attempt to coordinate a response to the threat [[07/10/05d]].

Perhaps mindful of the problems with shortages of flu vaccine that affected the 2004/5 season [[06/10/04b]], President Bush met with top executives at GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Pasteur, Chiron, Merck & Co, Wyeth and MedImmune to issue a rallying call to the Industry and talk about ways the companies can assist the USA in responding to a pandemic.

Amongst other things, he asked them to help work out a system to rapidly manufacture and supply vaccines against pandemic strains of the flu virus once they emerge. At present, it can take months to generate vaccines against a particular strain, so healthcare systems have to guess which are most likely to circulate each flu season.

The US Government has already set itself the target of stockpiling 40 million doses of vaccine against the H5N1 strain, thought to be a prime candidate as the cause of a new pandemic.

To that end, the USA has already awarded a number of contracts for the supply of flu vaccines and drugs - notably a $100 million dollar order for H5N1 vaccine from Sanofi-Pasteur [[16/09/05a]] and a rumoured major order for Roche’s flu drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir) [[20/09/05d]] - but has been criticised for not doing enough.

A group of Democrat Senators, led by Nevada’s Harry Reid, asked the Government a few days ago to explain why the USA has stockpiled only enough flu drug to treat 2% of Americans, while other countries have laid in antiviral drugs to treat 20%-40% of their populations. They suggest that - even if the USA should place a massive order for Tamiflu right away - Roche would be unable to supply the drug until 2007.

The World Health Organisation recommends that countries stockpile enough influenza drug to treat 25% of their populations.