Fluvirin: Maybe a silver lining

Senior U.S. officials offered little hope at week's end that any of Chiron Corp.'s Fluvirin influenza vaccine will reach the market during the current flu season. Barring a complete reversal of the positions taken by U.S. and British regulators, Fluvirin will be kept off the market because of CHIR's failure to meet manufacturing regulations.

While that is bad news for public health - the shortages will almost certainly result in deaths that could have been avoided with higher levels of vaccination - it may have finally alerted politicians to the perilous state of the vaccine industry. If Congress and public health officials continue to pay attention to the issue after the current crisis has abated, a window might open to institute policies that could change the economics of vaccines.

No quick fix

Although contamination with serratia bacteria seems to be restricted to less than 10% of CHIR's Fluvirin, Acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford downplayed suggestions that uncontaminated lots could be segregated and safely marketed this season. "It's not possible to say if any of them are salvageable at this point," Crawford told members of Congress on Friday. He added that he is "pessimistic" about the

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