HHS vaccine contract was 'suspect,' says Sen. Grassley

The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department’s decision last fall to award an $877 million anthrax-vaccine contract to a single company was “highly suspect,” Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote to department Secretary Michael Leavitt. The committee is reviewing the contract, which was given to California-based VaxGen Inc. as part of Project BioShield, a federal program to develop drugs that can be used against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is also conducting a review.
The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department’s decision last fall to award an $877 million anthrax-vaccine contract to a single company was “highly suspect,” Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote to department Secretary Michael Leavitt.

The committee is reviewing the contract, which was given to California-based VaxGen Inc. as part of Project BioShield, a federal program to develop drugs that can be used against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is also conducting a review.
Patrick G. Ryan
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)


Grassley argued in his January letter that the recent flu-vaccine shortage in the United States was a result of the government’s reliance on only a few manufacturers. “The country lost half of its flu vaccine supply when the Chiron facility in England was shut down due to contamination problems. … It appears that HHS may not have learned a lesson from the recent flu vaccine shortage.”

Grassley listed several other “troubling allegations” made about the contract, including questions about why the VaxGen vaccine, which has yet to be proven effective in people, was favored over an existing vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration and manufactured by Michigan-based BioPort.

BioPort has hired the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates to raise concerns on the Hill about the VaxGen contract.

Lance Ignon, a VaxGen spokesman, countered that “the only organization that has raised questions about this is [BioPort]. Their effort to discredit our vaccine is based on misinformation. It’s a desperate attempt to save a troubled outdated product on the verge of extinction.”

VaxGen’s product is a recombinant anthrax vaccine, based on a newer technology, and is the type of vaccine that HHS had been seeking when it solicited bids on the contract, Ignon said. HHS had been seeking to foster growth of more advanced vaccine technologies.

VaxGen officials had met with Finance Committee staff Feb. 3 and were later informed that the committee had no further questions for the company.