The company charged with manufacturing nearly 155 million new smallpox vaccines for the United States has said it won’t use a stem-cell line from an aborted fetus in the manufacturing process, changing earlier plans indicating it would.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded a contract to Acambis PLC of Great Britain to manufacture additional vaccine. U.S. officials have expressed concern that future terror attacks using smallpox could be in the offing.
Last month, WorldNetDaily reported that Acambis – one of four companies then vying for the new contract – would manufacture the new vaccine using MRC-5 cells, a line of aborted fetal cells dating back to 1966, because that method is more efficient.
However, rather than use the MRC-5 line, the firm – which is teaming up with Baxter International of Deerfield, Ill., to complete the contract – will instead use animal cell lines to manufacture the vaccines.
“The main difference is that in contract one, we are using the MRC-5 cell substrate; in contract two, we’re going to use the Baxter serum three Vero culture cell,” Acambis CEO John Brown stated at a Thursday press conference in the UK announcing the contract.
“Acambis’ new smallpox vaccine is based on the same vaccinia (cowpox) virus strain that was licensed in the U.S. and used for routine immunization against smallpox prior to the global eradication of smallpox in the 1970s,” stated a press statement published on the Acambis website.
Acambis had already been contracted by the U.S. government to make 54 million doses of smallpox vaccine. Those doses will be manufactured using the fetal-tissue cell line. The shots will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta within the next year. They will be made in Europe.
“The MRC-5 line was developed … from lung tissue taken from a 14-week fetus aborted for psychiatric reasons from a 27-year-old physically healthy woman,” said a description of the cell tissue by the Coriell Institute for Medical Research at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, where the line is maintained.
“While the probability of an intentional release of the smallpox virus is low, the risk does exist, and we must be prepared,” HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said last week in announcing the agency’s decision to award Acambis and Baxter the new contract.
“Expanding our stockpile so there is a smallpox vaccine for every American if needed prepares us to respond aggressively to minimize the spread of the disease should an outbreak occur,” he added. “Additionally, we hope that increasing our smallpox vaccine stockpile would serve as a deterrent to those who might consider using smallpox as a weapon against us.”
Routine vaccination against smallpox in the U.S. ended in 1972. The U.N.-sponsored World Health Organization announced the naturally occurring virus eradicated in 1980. However, nations like Iraq, North Korea, Russia and even the U.S. have kept the virus alive in government labs, possibly even weaponizing the virus.
Thompson said the government has no plans for mass inoculations in the U.S., but the new doses mean Washington will be able to stockpile around 286 million doses in total. The 2000 Census put the U.S. population at about 285.6 million.
The HHS secretary also said the company agreed to sell the vaccine to the U.S. at a fixed price of $2.76 per dose; any cost overruns will be borne by the manufacturers. The program is worth $428 million.