Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Birds

Anything on the news these days about the potential Bird Flu pandemic reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 movie The Birds. Downright scary.

However, did any of you just happen to hear this past week that the US government (Health and Human Services Dept.) has awarded contracts, totaling more than $1 billion, to 5 pharmaceutical companies to develop technology for speedier mass production of vaccines!

The largest of the 5 contracts was awarded to Solvay Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in Belgium: $298.6 million. But 40% of Solvay's pharmaceutical business comes out of Atlanta, GA, the city and state hoping for the new business this contract will bring.

It so happens that this is the company Donica has been with for the last 15 years. So talk about a feather in their cap AND the pressure to produce! "The goal is to be able to distribute vaccine to every American within six months of a pandemic striking."

How does this impact Donica per se? It doesn't, technically, except behind the scenes. Donica's position in the pharma branch of the company (Solvay also operates in Chemicals and Plastics, employing 30,000 people in 500 offices in 50 countries) is Global Director of Regulatory Systems , in which she identifies, develops and implements systems and processes that will standardize and increase efficiencies across the organization. Though her main office is here in Atlanta (Marietta), she is back-n-forth between The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany throughout the year.

And that's the feather in MY cap--getting to travel with her much of the time. Let's hope and pray that our world's situation, as it relates to a possible bird-flu pandemic, is not as scary as it can be but ends up being every bit as lucky as I am, while these 5 companies work on vaccine preparedness!


Get the Facts (5/8/06 Addendum)

  • Currently, a virulent flu strain, H5N1, is causing a pandemic among migratory birds and poultry flocks around the world.

  • This virus is getting attention and raising concern because humans lack immunity to it. It has infected a limited number of humans who have had extremely close contact with infected fowl. The H5N1 virus has not yet developed the ability to pass easily from person to person and cause outbreaks in humans. It may never do so.

  • No one can say with any certainty when a pandemic will occur or how severe it will be, or if H5N1 or some other novel flu virus will spark the next pandemic.

  • What public health experts do know with certainty is that, like hurricanes and earthquakes, pandemics happen. Many scientists observe that we are long overdue for the next global flu outbreak.

  • That is why governments around the world and here in the U.S. are preparing for a pandemic and asking all sectors of society -- businesses, schools, faith-based organizations, the medical community -- to prepare now for a health emergency that might result in infection rates of 30 percent in the general population and workplace absenteeism rates that may reach 40 percent for a period of months.

  • There are steps every American can and should take to prepare for a pandemic flu. Some of these are steps that should be taken to prepare for other types of public health emergencies, so doing them now in preparation for a pandemic flu could benefit you in other situations as well.


  1. I'm beginning to think this is a big who-doo about nothing. The fact that the government is throwing so much money at it is only proof that somewhere, someone is making a lot of money. I think this flu thing is being used as a convenient excuse.
    ~L (who's tired of being afraid of the bomb and superviruses)

  2. Nile virus, bird-flu, I'm not sure that Lisa is'nt right.... As a pharmacist, I feel very uncomfotable when people ask me what to do... I don't believe that there will be THIS pandemia. Bird-flu is really hard to catch. Maybe another one... an air-born virus. But not sure at all. I don't know what to think of all this. Very uncomfortable .... yes.

  3. I also read somewhere on Swiss Info that I thought it was a Swiss Company that also was awarded... Not sure right off since I was a bit under weather yesterday.. But I did read this!

  4. I'm sure the virus is quite dangerous, but I'm also feel that there's a lot of Marketing behind it. Remember the mad cow disease? No one talks about that anymore. On the other hand, it does give an uneasy feeling since all we have to rely on is what the medias say.

  5. I have just added a "Get the Facts" addendum to my post, which will hopefully clear up some of the mystique about this flu.

    Lisa: Tom Cruise, corporate greed and bad apples aside, I am actually very glad someone is taking this seriously! We HOPE it won't happen, of course, but there is something to be said for being ready if it does. It's our senior citizens and children that are already affected by other strains of flu (up to one million dying per year). Why would we think this one is NOT serious after 200+ people have already been infected/died!

    It reminds me of bad street corners without traffic lights: how many people have to be killed before they put up a traffic light!

    MP: As a pharmacist, I'm sure you get many tough questions. It sounds like there are precautions for this particular flu strain just like any other.

    ET: Ahh. I hadn't realized that the Swiss are also in on this "conspiracy." Makes me feel better :)

    CS: I just think we can all get educated and not totally depend on what the media or governments say. WE can take responsibility and be prepared.

    The thing is, there HAVE been pandemics and we have all eventually been recipients of the vaccines that have innoculated against them. I had polio the year before the Salk vaccine saved millions of our kids from getting it in the future. Think about measles, mumps, chicken pox. As they're saying, we're due for another one. But NO, I don't think we need to be frightened. I think we need to be smart and prepared!

  6. I also think this should be taken seriously because you just never know, do you? It COULD happen. Preparedness is vital. Last thing I heard, Lower Saxony only had enough vaccines (and only tamiflu, I believe, which wouldn't even be effective?) for 6% of the population. That's not enough in case there really is an outbreak.

    I believe I just read in the news today that people in 20 countries, including 5,000 in Germany were participating in some kind of vaccine testing?

  7. VERY INTERESTING...COINCIDENTLY..*rolling my eyes* on tv, there is the crazed movie about the bird flu, i can't remember the name, but I saw it, and thought, OH GREAT, lets really spread more fear and hysteria about this!! NOW it makes sense, if they just released that report, the movie was just a couple of days ago..ayayay, pathetic!

  8. ...and hey, guess what I just found on about Donald Rumsfeld and Tamiflu:


  9. Also as for Japan, “bird flu” is frequently reported by the media.
    But I think that almost Japanese people that don’t include poultryman do NOT have a sense of crisis about the bird flu. I might be ONE of them. WE are TOO easygoing.
    I read your blog and people’s comment, I know I made a mistake.

    By the way, you ate a sushi and “Yaki-soba” while I did not visit your blog.
    (Yaki-soba is a noodle that you said “Vietnamese style”).
    Meanwhile I was eating “Kentucky Fried Chicken” for the first time in almost half year. (It's true!)
    (Oh, chicken of “Kentucky Fried Chicken” is OK ?) Ummmmmmmmm...

    Though I visited Bettina blog I can not understand “German”. That’s a pity!


  10. Christina: Actually, after how UNprepared the US was for the Katrina hurricane, I'm sure they're trying to be more pro-active these days! Can you imagine how Bush would fare if he WEREN'T prepared for a Bird Flu pandemic on his watch! But that's another issue!

    Kim/Thomas: I hate the fear factor, don't you! Just give us the facts, please!

    Gary: HA. FEMA indeed!

    I liked the Snopes link and have copied this from it:

    "Influenza can jump species and move from birds (and other animals, such as pigs) into humans. During the process of that move — and afterwards, as one person infects another — the virus changes form. What at one moment can be a containable and well-understood virus can in the space of hours or days become almost an entirely new virus. For this reason, flus are hard to combat: they change as they are passed along, staying well ahead of science's attempts to contain them.

    Most strains of flu are not deadly to humans, save for members of groups especially at risk to all forms of contagion (e.g. the very young, the very old, and the infirm of all ages). Bird flu, however, is a killer, and if it jumps species and mutates on the fly into a form that humans can easily pass to each other, it could take the lives of millions in the space of weeks, ultimately making the United Nations' projected death toll of 150 million worldwide look like wishful thinking."

    Nori: I think of the Japanese as a people who can be sensible about this and not panic. I think they also can probably contribute a lot?

    Yes, I ate sushi while you were gone :) And you ate KFC!

  11. Well, I guess the way I look at it is that I expect my government to protect those of us living in this country, against attacks of war or anything else that threatens our lives! I personally haven't gotten freaked out by the idea of the bird flu and so far it seems like a far off notion. HOWEVER, should it become a reality hitting a little too close to home, I sure like knowing that my protectors already have it on the radar and that I would have a vaccine available to me and my family.

    I understand the other side that might see this effort as premature or simply another form of propaganda to make more money. But let's just say it does become a reality -- just think how pissed people would be if the country was NOT prepared and a vaccine was NOT available. I guess it's a classic case of which side is it better to err on -- too much or too little? Ask that question to the displaced residents of New Orleans!

  12. I agree with being prepared, and am glad for the extra info.

    My comment was colored by the media frenzy which always seems to surround these kinds of things. They sell sensationalism, get everyone whipped up and frightened so they'll be glued to the t.v. and the network sponsors will keep raking in those big commercial bucks.

    Then after a while the subject - and consequent facts which have thankfully leaked out during the circus - will slowly slip back off the main topic of the day list as the people educate themselves and it fails to sell the necessary amount of Coca-Cola, athletic shoes, or hype the latest prime-time sitcom.

    My opinion in summary:
    facts + necessary preparedness = good
    media hype = bad

  13. Amy: You are the perfect Ms. Libra, balancing everything out! I love it/you! :)

    Lisa: I totally agree about the sensationalism of this subject! Totally. That's what's so sad. It so often clouds the issue at hand.

    BTW, Donica often reminds me that for every ONE molecule that hits the market in a new drug form, 100,000 do NOT make it. It's mind-boggling, but THAT'S why drugs cost so much in the States! Every new study/molecule can cost millions of dolars, with no guarantee that anything will come of it. The FDA is that strict and gets stricter every day whenever a drug that makes it ends up with side effects that were not caught or were covered up!

    Pharmaceuticals, with all its perceived "gravy," is not an easy business to be in. To whom much is given, much is required!

  14. NZ has also taken precations, including sending pamphlets, such as the one in your blog, to every home. Public places such as the library will close down.

    I fully support the action being taken...even stocking up with emergency rations and first aid kits, which people think is extreme, as in NZ there are a number of potential disasters to be prepared for anyway. (Earthquakes, tsunamis.. :)

  15. UGH. So sorry you have several things to be prepared for, but at least you don't have your collective head in the sand!