Bird Flu: Search for Vaccine

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," May 4, 2006, that was edited for clarity.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: And the government is awarding $1 billion to five drug companies. It will be spent on developing new and improved flu vaccines, including the deadly bird flu. As part of this deal, the companies must develop the vaccines on U.S. soil. It comes one day after the government warned that a bird flu pandemic could claim up to two million American lives.

My next guest runs one of those companies and may — may — just have the magic bullet to combat the bird flu. Jean-Pierre Garnier is the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Sir, thank you for joining us.


CAVUTO: The worst-case scenario, as the administration pointed out yesterday, was up to two million dying here. Millions more could be very, very sick. Cities might have to be quarantined. I know that is a worst-case scenario.

How real is that, do you think?

GARNIER: Well, first of all, the danger does exist. So, we must address it.

But, frankly, nobody in the world can tell you what is the probability of an event like this. It is a little like an earthquake on the West Coast. You know it is going to come. You just don't know when.

CAVUTO: So, what do you think we are looking at? Is it just a matter of time before we have this human-to-human contact that I guess would scare everybody?

GARNIER: Well, if the past is any indication, yes, because we have had a cycle of such events.

The last big one was the Spanish flu that killed 50 million people, at a time where people did not take airplanes and — and the like. And we have had some false alarms, with the swine flu under President Ford, and more recently in Hong Kong.

So, it could happen any place, any time. And we have to be ready. The reason why people are more worried today is because of the spread of the so-called H5N1 virus. We have seen that virus spread across the world very quickly with the chicken and the turkeys and the geese and so forth.

And if this virus was to mutate into a killer for man, it could be very sudden and propagate the epidemic. But there's no reason to panic. It's not happening yet. But being ready is a must.

CAVUTO: Do you think we are ready, Mr. Garnier, if it does spread, that — that people who want vaccines here will be able to get vaccines here?

GARNIER: No. We are not ready. In fact, our own vaccine is still a few months away from mass production.

We are at the end of the process. We have made significant progress. But this is not the end of it. The country must implement this plan that was presented by the administration yesterday...


CAVUTO: So, in a worst-case scenario, sir, if we were to discover this erupting somewhere in the continental United States, we would be a few months away from treating people en masse?


We expect it to be in mass production around November or December this year. But that is still a few months away. And it will take time, of course, to manufacture hundreds of millions of vaccines. And that's part of the plan of the administration, to try to speed up the effort.

CAVUTO: Right. Right, and to share it among companies.

Now, the upshot, then, for folks listening is, if this comes sooner than expected, we could be in trouble?

GARNIER: Yes, absolutely.

CAVUTO: Interesting. If that is the case, what's the best recommendation for those inflicted with it?

GARNIER: Well, some of the aspects of the plan are describing what needs to be done: Stay away from a large concentration of people, obviously. Stay home, away from the declared cases. And, also, use antiviral medicine, if you have symptoms.

There are two, Relenza from GlaxoSmithKline, and Tamiflu from Roche. Those are products that can protect you and which have been used in Asia for the few people that got infected.

So, there are things you can do. But, clearly, this is not the best- case scenario. Hopefully, we will be able to stockpile enough vaccine on time to avoid a catastrophic event.

CAVUTO: Jean-Pierre Garnier, thank you, sir. We appreciate the update.

GARNIER: Thank you.

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