HHS to fund new smallpox vaccine programs
Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson on Tuesday announced two new contracts to biotechnology firms to develop safer smallpox vaccines that can be given to people with compromised immune systems, including those with HIV, who have received organ transplants, and who are being treated for cancer, The Washington Post reports. Smallpox vaccines currently being made available to health care workers and first-response teams are not being offered to immunocompromised patients--or even to people who live with them--because of the possibility that the live-virus vaccine could sicken or possibly kill them. The $20 million HHS contracts were awarded to Cambridge, Mass.-based Acambis and Bavarian Nordic of Copenhagen to develop a new smallpox vaccine using a "severely crippled" version of the vaccinia Ankara virus that causes the disease. Acambis officials say initial studies will be completed by the end of the year, with human tests to begin in 2004. Bush administration officials say they plan to order 30 million doses of any new vaccine that is developed.