Could a Zika vaccine be too expensive?

One thing is for certain, where there is a pandemic, there is money to be made.

A French pharmaceutical company will do the final testing for a Zika vaccine developed last year by the U.S. Army at taxpayer expense, National Public Radio is reporting. If the testing goes well, the company will set the price for the U.S. market.

The question is: Will state governments be able to afford the French company’s asking price for a vaccine that U.S. Army helped bring to fruition?

Rebekah Gee, Louisiana’s secretary of health, told NPR that her state is in the middle of a financial crisis and is looking at cutting money allocated to fight the Zika virus carried mainly by the Aedes aegypti — the B-52 of mosquitos.

“God forbid we have a Zika outbreak,” she told NPR.

The virus can inflict devastating birth defects for fetuses, including microencephaly, in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains and small heads. More birth defects related to the virus are expected in 2017 in Florida and throughout the U.S.

The total number of Zika cases reported in Florida in 2016 was 1,384. The total number of Zika cases reported in Florida for 2017 so far is 18.

Mosquito spraying was stepped up last summer once Zika hit Florida. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention suggest that because the full effects of the virus are unknown, all pregnant women infected with Zika should receive postnatal imaging and a comprehensive newborn physical exam and hearing screen until a vaccine can be marketed.

The U.S. Army plans to grant an exclusive license to Sanofi Pasteur, Inc. to manufacture and sell the vaccine after it testing. Gee said the French pharmaceutical giant could set a price that is too high for states like Louisianna.

NPR reports that Gee is just one among a growing number of public officials and activists expressing concern. They want Sanofi to agree in writing to show restraint when it sets the price for the vaccine.

Doctors without Borders and Knowledge Ecology International have asked the Army to delay granting Sanofi the exclusive license until the company agrees to reasonable price terms. Former Democratic Presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have

Former Democratic Presidential candidateU.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have also asked the Army to get such a guarantee.

“If the American public funds the life-saving intervention, we need price protections for states that have to foot the bill,” Gee says.

Louisianna is in such a tight financial bind, Gee says, lawmakers will have to choose between funding for K-12 education and the Zika vaccine.

Jamie Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a non-profit public interest group, said the inventors of the vaccine are all federal employees whose salaries are paid by the U.S. taxpayer. Furthermore, the U.S. Army did all the Phase I research and testing so there is no research and development cost to Sanofi.

Sanofi told NPR that it has incurred a substantial cost, dedicating 60 scientists full time to the Zika vaccine.

If plans remain, the Department of Health and Human Services will give Sanofi $43 million for a Phase II trial. This will determine the success rate of the vaccine and any side-effects. If the vaccine passes, then the agency will then give another $130 million to Sanofi for a Phase III trial.

To read all of the NPR story on the Health News Florida website, click here.

Flu season is here in Florida, taking two lives already

The flu season in Florida has arrived.

Earlier this month, the Florida Department of Health confirmed a 7-year-old and a 17-year-old died from influenza-associated complication.flu-shot

“We are beginning to see an increase in flu activity in our county. Now is a good time to remind all that a flu shot is an excellent preventive measure,” said Dr. Alina Alonso, Director, Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County.

Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. Celeste Philip said most people view the flu as a minimal threat, but Floridians should take flu infection seriously.

Besides a flu shot, the Department of Health says it also essential to practice good hygiene by properly and frequently washing your hands to help prevent the spread of seasonal flu.

“Make it a habit to clean and disinfect commonly used surfaces in your home, school or office. You can take additional steps to ward off the flu by coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your elbow and avoiding touching your face,” the Health Department reminds.

Marketing over common sense? May be better to wait on flu shot

The marketing of the flu vaccine has become an almost year-round effort as drug store chains urge their customers to get a shot earlier and earlier.

But a story by CNN says that may not be the wisest thing to do to combat the flu.

Swine_Flu_Texas_TXAUS102.jp
When should you get a flu shot? It may be better to wait despite retailers’ claims.

Some experts say marketing may be overtaking medical wisdom since it’s unclear how long the immunity imparted by the vaccine lasts, particularly in seniors.

An early flu shot is better than no flu shot at all, but the science is uncertain how long your immunity will last if you get the shot in late summer as opposed to early fall. Flu season generally peaks in mid-winter or beyond.

“If you’re over 65, don’t get the flu vaccine in September. Or August. It’s a marketing scheme,” said Laura Haynes, an immunologist at the University of Connecticut Center on Aging.

Tom Charland, founder and CEO of Merchant Medicine, said medical services on demand appeals to millennials but when it comes to late summer flu shots, “It’s a way to get people into the store to buy other things.”

Read the whole debate on the issue at CNN by clicking here.

When it comes to Zika, it’s all about the money

Common backyard mosquitoes can spread several diseases. /PB Post Greg Lovett

While every Zika case generates a headline, the mosquito-borne virus linked to horrendous birth defect remains a political football.

It’s all about the money.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott won’t accept a penny for Medicaid expansion despite Floridians still without health care. He always bemoans federal spending.

But when it comes to Zika he has been more than willing to put his hand out.

Health News Florida is reporting Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell claim that the Republican Congress’ failure to fully fund the fight against Zika could slow down development of a vaccine.

Burwell, in Orlando, said Florida has been pledged $5.6 million in federal dollars to fight Zika. There is another $27 million in public health emergency funding is available to Florida, but without an authorization from Congress, that may be the end of it.

The Obama Administration asked Congress to approve for $1.9 billion dollars to combat Zika, which has been tied  to microcephaly in new borns — a condition where the head is smaller than normal and affects development.

Burwell’s concern also indicates how virus scares – be it Zika or Ebola or Avian Flu – not all of this taxpayer money is going into mosquito control. Some of it is being moved into the private sector.

Burwell said all the hand-wringing over funding is slowing private industry down in the development of a vaccine.

“We have moved all the money we can at this point, in terms of moving our money around to try and cover,” Burwell said, speaking to reporters at Orange County’s mosquito control headquarters. “We’re at a point when we need the resources. And very clearly, we will run out of money in our vaccine efforts.”

So far, all of Florida’s cases of Zika have been contracted through foreign travel, but the state is investigating two cases that may have been acquired locally in South Florida.

Read all of the Health News Florida story by clicking here.