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Govt.: More progress needed in influenza prevention

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON U.S. states and territories have made progress toward planning for an influenza pandemic, but major gaps remain, according to a federal assessment released Thursday.

“The results of this assessment provide a broad-brush picture of strengths and weaknesses across various aspects of pandemic preparedness,” stated William Raub, Health and Human Services science advisor to the secretary.

The report shows that, on the whole, states and territories have accomplished a tremendous amount in a short time. The results also indicate that much remains to be done to become prepared as a nation. State operating plans scored best in protecting citizens. The plans showed no or few major gaps in addressing mass vaccination operations during each phase of pandemic, ensuring surveillance and laboratory capability during each phase of a pandemic, in acquiring and distributing medical countermeasures and in ensuring communication capability.

All state plans did not address or showed major gaps sustaining operations of state agencies, and supporting and protecting state government workers so that the state government could continue to function during an influenza pandemic.

The report noted that continuity of operations for all state agencies merits significant attention if substantial socio-economic disruptions are to be avoided during an influenza pandemic. “Even the best plans can fail if managers cannot accommodate the significant absenteeism and disruptions in supporting services and supplies that an influenza pandemic is almost certain to produce,” HHS stated in a press release.

The Department of Health and Human Services also on Thursday announced a $487 million multiple-year contract with Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics to build the first U.S. facility to manufacture cell-based vaccine for seasonal and pandemic flu‹representing an effort to help fortify preparations against an influenza pandemic.

“Today we are taking an important step in our ongoing commitment to pandemic preparedness,” stated Robin Robinson, director of the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which will oversee the contract. “In a pandemic we would need vaccine ready within six months.”

That’s why the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza set domestic surge capacity as a goal in preparing the nation for a pandemic. That goal could not be accomplished using the traditional egg-based method of producing flu vaccine. Because cell-based influenza vaccine can be made faster and in greater quantities than traditional vaccine, the new facility is expected to increase the U.S. capacity to make pandemic influenza vaccine by at least 25%.

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Publix to open 1,000th store Feb. 5

BY Michael Johnsen

LAKELAND, Fla. Publix will open the doors to store No. 1,000 on Feb. 5, the grocer announced Thursday. The latest addition to Publix, which will stand at 54,000 sq. ft., will include a pharmacy, bakery, deli and floral and fresh seafood departments.

“We are proud of our 79-year history, rich in providing superior customer service and delivering a high-quality selection of foods, products and services,” stated Publix president Todd Jones.

Opening day festivities will begin with a performance by the St. John’s Academy of the Arts choral group. To commemorate the milestone, Publix will grant eight local area schools $1,000 each to use toward the purchase of school supplies.

According to the company, the Florida Historical Society will be on-hand to recognize and document Publix’ milestone.

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Eli Lilly agrees to settlement over alleged mispromotion of Zyprexa

BY Alaric DeArment

WASHINGTON Drug maker Eli Lilly & Co. has agreed to pay $1.415 billion to resolve allegations that it promoted the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa for unapproved uses.

The Department of Justice announced Thursday that the Indianapolis-based company would pay a $515 million criminal fine (the largest ever in a healthcare case and the largest criminal fine ever imposed on an individual corporation) and up to $800 million in a civil settlement with the federal government and the states. It will also forfeit assets of $100 million.

The settlement will resolve criminal and civil allegations that Lilly promoted Zyprexa (olanzapine) for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including treatment of dementia in elderly people. 

In a plea agreement, the company has admitted its guilt to a misdemeanor charge. It also signed a civil settlement to resolve claims that by marketing the drug for off-label uses, it caused the submission of false payment claims to federal health insurance plans such as Medicaid, TRICARE and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

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