Sanders calls on FDA to speed flu vaccine imports

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(Host) Congressman Bernie Sanders is calling on the Bush administration to immediately take steps to import millions of doses of flu vaccine from Canada and Europe. The federal Food and Drug Administration has indicated that it may take several months to bring some of the vaccine into the United States.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports

(Kinzel) Sanders says he can’t understand why the FDA is dragging its feet on this issue. A number of states, including Vermont, have identified sources of flu vaccine in Canada and Europe but the vaccines can’t be brought into this country without the approval of the FDA.

The FDA is reviewing each potential source and Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Paul Jarris says it could take up to two months for the state to get federal approval to bring vaccine in from Quebec. That timetable is unacceptable to Sanders:

(Sanders) “We have a crisis. If there is a flu epidemic in the United States, vulnerable people will likely die or become very sick. What you should be doing is sending up a whole bunch of inspectors to Canada to Europe, inspect the facility, make sure that the vaccines are safe and get them to the United States. I mean, this is not rocket science. This is not a difficult problem. Let’s move it.”

(Kinzel) Sanders says the inspections could be done very quickly because most of the international drug companies have very strong safety records:

(Sanders) “You’re not dealing with fly by night operations. You’re dealing with major drug companies who are producing flu vaccines that are being used by people in Canada and Europe. Why does it take two months to get this medicine into the United States? There’s something wrong there.”

(Kinzel) Sanders suspects the real reason that the FDA is moving slowly on this issue is because the importation of flu vaccine from Canada could undermine the Agency’s position concerning the safety of reimporting other drugs:

(Sanders) “I think that if they were to move vigorously with reputable firms in highly developed countries where these drug companies are well-regulated and show that we can bring flu vaccine into this country immediately, that it’s safe and in fact that it might cost less than the flu vaccine that we’re currently using – the next question the people will ask is, ‘Gee, why can’t we do that for other medicines, other than flu vaccines?’ I.e., the whole question of re-importation.”

(Kinzel) Sanders says he hopes to build a bi-partisan coalition of House members to convince the FDA to act on this issue in the very near future.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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