Drug makers want fast Customs release for bird flu vaccine
The pharmaceutical industry wants the U.S. government to take several steps to prepare for a potential outbreak of avian flu in humans.
A top priority for drug makers is receiving expedited customs clearance for vaccines under development to combat the contagious disease that is spreading to bird populations around the world, Anthony Barone, director of global logistics policy for Pfizer, told Department of Homeland Security officials Tuesday.
Industry lobbyists are drafting model legislation to present to Congress that would create a new Harmonized Tariff Schedule category for drugs under development to respond quickly to the spread of disease, Barone said during the quarterly meeting of DHS’s Commercial Operations Advisory Committee. Drugs with the new code would be subject to minimal Customs scrutiny.
“It doesn’t make much sense to do the same process as drugs that are under commercial distribution,” he explained after the meeting.
Pharmaceutical companies are also worried that if bird flu virus spreads to humans, Customs and Border Protection and other agencies that determine the admissibility of people and cargo at ports of entry will quickly experience personnel shortages at the border, Barone said.
Mass absences of workers who are sick, or stay home to care for sick relatives or avoid infection, could severely impact operations at the border as well as command and control at the headquarters level, Barone said.
He suggested that the Department of Homeland Security develop a business continuity plan similar to the one being developed to keep commercial port operations open and cargo flowing in the event of a terrorist attack on the supply chain.
The Bush administration earlier this month released its national response plan for an outbreak of avian flu. The Department of Health and Human Service is responsible for the medical response to an outbreak, including building stockpiles of vaccines, while DHS is in charge of the overall response.
Robert Jacksta, executive director for traveler security at CBP, said the agency is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control to share advance cargo, crew and passenger manifest data from ocean carriers and airlines so that new reporting requirements and systems aren’t imposed on industry.
Experts conservatively estimate that a worldwide outbreak could kill well above 50 million people worldwide.
“The avian flu poses a very tangible, immediate threat,” Barone said.