For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 7, 2005
President Meets with Vaccine Industry Representatives to Discuss Avian Flu
Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases discuss the meeting
2:38 P.M. EDT
SECRETARY LEAVITT: We have just concluded the meeting with a group of representatives from the vaccine industry with the President. We discussed the potential of a pandemic flu, and the preparations that are necessary. We talked -- we received expressions of vigorous support from the vaccine industry, their willingness to aggressively help us prepare. We talked about the need for short-term and long-term preparations; talked about the importance of a vigorous domestic vaccine market, and the need for us to be planning not just for the H5N1, but for the long-term prospect of a pandemic.
DR. FAUCI: Just to reiterate that, the President expressed his willingness to cooperate and learn from the companies what they can do to help us to prepare for a pandemic situation. But as Secretary Leavitt said, the important issue was, how do we build a sustainable capacity for influenza vaccine, such that we're not always in a crisis mode. And that way is to do the two-pronged approach that the Secretary mentioned, where we build the capacity that is sustainable for the seasonal flu to the point we will have the capability, not maybe this year -- next year, or five or ten years from now -- to be able to meet a crisis. So it will have immediate benefit and long-range benefit.
Q What did the President offer in the way of helping companies ramp up production?
SECRETARY LEAVITT: We really didn't talk in that level of detail. I have been meeting with all of the vaccine manufacturers, one on one, to talk about their capacity, what their plans are and how we can best assure that we have the supplies of vaccines necessary in the shortest amount of time possible. There's no secret about the fact that our vaccine manufacturing capacity domestically is not what we need it to be. We've got to improve in that area. So we have been discussing ways in which we could shorten the time frames and broaden our production capabilities.
Q What would these ways be?
SECRETARY LEAVITT: Well, we'll be developing and announcing a plan in the next couple of weeks -- it will be in October -- that will lay out some of those details. We're still in the process of formulating it, and discussions like the one we had today are very important. But it's more than vaccines. We're dealing with the need for a comprehensive approach. We need the capacity for surveillance in the international community. If this should happen in a small village in Thailand, we need to know about it as soon as possible. If it happens in the United States and a person presents themselves in an emergency room in Seattle or in Indianapolis, we need to know about it instantly.
We need to have antivirals, we need to have vaccines, we need to have the capacity to deal with the American people and to tell them what's happening. We need state and local preparedness. Those are vital components to a comprehensive plan. Today we talked about vaccines, but that's just one part of a comprehensive plan.
DR. FAUCI: One of the important issues that we want to emphasize is that the Secretary has been meeting with the companies before. This isn't just a meeting in a vacuum, that the meeting is over and that's it. The Secretary has been meeting with the companies. The President is affirming and reaffirming that we are interested in dealing with them and partnering with them, and hearing from them what we need to do to get our capacity up to the point where we can respond. And at the end of the meeting, the Secretary, again, will continue the dialogue with the companies in order to achieve the goal that the President set out.
Q Do they need federal support to do what it is you're asking them to do? Do they need federal dollars?
SECRETARY LEAVITT: We talked about, in my individual meetings with them -- each one has a different situation, and rather than try to inventory those today, because in some cases they are proprietary, we've talked about what's necessary to get to the goal of having enough vaccine in the shortest possible time.
But again, vaccine is only one component of a comprehensive plan. It's an important part, but not the only part.
Q How can you go about making vaccine production and sales more profitable than it is now? What are some of the options you're playing with?
SECRETARY LEAVITT: Well, we need to have a sense of certainty about it. One of the good things that could come out of this is an ongoing capacity for vaccines, not just in the pandemic, but for the ordinary flu. Every year we have an effort to vaccinate people in this country; we fall short of what we -- what our aspirations should be in terms of the numbers that we vaccinate. Some of that is constrained by supply. We need to create a certainty, and a lot of good can come from that alone, and it works together with our long-term. That's the purpose of long-term and short-term planning.
Q When you say certainty, do you mean -- or what does "certainty" mean?
SECRETARY LEAVITT: It means that there will be a market. People are not inclined to produce product of which there is no market. And by creating an ethic of vaccinations, for example, for the ordinary flu, it increases not only the health of our country, but the certainty of the capacity that we need in time of crisis.
DR. FAUCI: This has been a department -- this is important because this has been the Secretary and the department's plan all along, to gradually build up so that you get a much greater proportion of the American population routinely vaccinated. There's been some understandable confusion about that because of the accident of last year where we were trying to go from 50 to 60, to 80, and then above 100, and we had a problem because half of our supply all of a sudden disappeared. But the plan of going in the direction of getting the kinds of numbers that the Secretary is talking about is perfectly compatible with the building up of the capacity that we're talking about.
Q You've met with the companies before and you say you'll continue to meet with them. Then what specifically was this meeting for, and what did they ask from the President?
SECRETARY LEAVITT: It was primarily for the President to express directly to them the importance he places on this issue, and to thank them for their willingness to step up and to cooperate with us in the development of a pandemic plan, both for the short-term and the long-term. He expressed it directly and they expressed their vigorous support.
Q What did they ask --
SECRETARY LEAVITT: It was not that kind of a meeting. We're obviously having those kinds of meetings at the departmental level; we're working with each of them. Their circumstances are different and the opportunities are different. We're dealing with those one at a time.
Q So in this meeting, none of these guys specifically said to the President, we need X and we need Y from the government?
SECRETARY LEAVITT: That's true.
Q -- make more sense to make decisions about who should be vaccinated and how big the market should be on medical criteria, which groups really are to benefit and which are not, as opposed to getting as many people vaccinated as possible to create a big market?
DR. FAUCI: Actually, they're not exclusive, Rick, at all. They're not mutually exclusive. Because if you're talking about you have a limited supply, then you have to get the people with the highest priority. If you only have 60 or 70 or 80 million doses, then if we do a calculation mathematically of the number of people that fall into the CDC risk categories -- people who are exposed like health workers, 65 years of age or older, chronic conditions, pregnant women, et cetera -- then you want to make sure you get them vaccinated first. But if your ultimate strategic plan is to have a much greater proportion, you will then transcend the high-risk people and get into the people who, A, could benefit, but also who might indirectly benefit. Because we know now from studies that if we vaccinate small children, age 2 years to -- and older, as opposed to what we didn't before, because they really didn't have much of a problem with flu -- those are the children who, when they get infected, they go home and they give it to Grandma and Grandpa, who are high-risk.
So there are many, many benefits in expanding the cohort of people who'll be vaccinated at the same time as getting the high-risk people vaccinated.
SECRETARY LEAVITT: Which demonstrates the need for a comprehensive plan for pandemic preparation. Dr. Fauci and I, and Dr Gerberding from CDC, along with representatives of the State Department and the Department of Agriculture, and USAID, will be traveling tomorrow to Asia, to a series of countries where Avian flu has manifested itself. We'll be meeting with heads of state and with health ministers to talk about the importance of transparency and coordination.
Obviously, our first objective will be to contain this if it occurs. We also want to stress to them the fact that this cannot simply be about preparation for H5N1. We don't know if H5N1 virus will become a pandemic, or not. What we do know is that someday there will be a pandemic. And our preparation is not adequate, and our purpose is to prepare and to be ready whenever it should come.
END 2:48 P.M. EDT