Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon's Latest Rescue Operation Saves Vaccine Production Process

Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon's Latest Rescue Operation Saves Vaccine Production Process

Article excerpt

The Defense Department is looking into possibly finding a second supplier for the anthrax vaccine, which now is produced by only one company in the United States.

As a result of financial troubles at the company, the Pentagon recently had to double the price it pays for the vaccine-which is mandatory for all U.S. troops and aims to protect from the deadly anthrax bacterium. Officials believe this to be the preferred biological agent that potential enemies would use to attack U.S. forces.

Deployed as spores, anthrax is colorless, tasteless and odorless. Poisoning starts out with flu-like symptoms and, within minutes, the victim is unable to breathe. This makes anthrax 99 percent effective against those who are not immunized, said Pentagon health officials.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's decision made the immunization program mandatory about 18 months ago. Before that, the state of Michigan had subsidized the production of anthrax vaccine at a state-owned facility called MBPI, or Michigan Biological Product Institute.

In June 1998, the Michigan government sold MBPI to Lansing-based Bioport for approximately $25 million.

The Army, which manages the vaccination program, was paying Bioport $4.36 per vaccine dose. But six months into the contract, the company claimed that the $4.36 did not cover all of the costs to maintain and operate that facility. That was the case because, when the state of Michigan ran the operation, many of the labor and overhead costs were covered by public funds.

Fearing that Bioport would go out of business, the Defense Department agreed to renegotiate the contract.

Under a revised contract the price of each vaccine dose went up from $4.36 to $10.64. That increased the total value of the contract by $24.1 million. The total value of the contract-from September 1998 to December 2005-is $49. …

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