Vaccine Briefs

Gro Harlem Brundtland Steps Down from WHO

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization since 1998, announced on 24 August that she will step down at the end of her term in July 2003. Under Brundtland’s leadership, the WHO developed guidelines for use of antiretroviral therapy in the developing world and created an expanded essential drug list. A new Director-General, who will serve until mid-2008, will be nominated by WHO’s Executive Board in January 2003 and elected at the May 2003 World Health Assembly.

US Global AIDS Funding: A Status Report

The US Senate unanimously passed the “US Leadership Against HIV/ AIDS, TB and Malaria Act of 2002,” sponsored by Sens. Kerry, Frist and Kennedy, authorizing US$5 billion in spending for global AIDS. Several steps remain before these funds materialize: First, a joint House-Senate subcommittee will meet to harmonize the Senate bill with a similar one already approved by the House of Representatives. Next, the legislation will be subject to final approval by the two chambers and then signature by the President. Finally, Congressional spending committees must act to appropriate the monies, since authorization bills do not specify funding sources.

In August, President Bush vetoed a $5 billion package—including $200 million for global AIDS—that was part of the post-9/11 supplemental budget for fiscal year 2002. Presidential aides say that the $200 million may be restored in the FY 2003 budget, but have not said whether it would be an addition to, or part of, the FY 2003 budget line.

AVAC Appoints First Education Director

In July, Edd Lee became the first director of Education and Outreach for the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC). Previously, Lee was associate director of prevention services at the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center in San Francisco, where he coordinated outreach to gay men, commercial sex workers and other groups; and community co-chair of San Francisco’s HIV Prevention Planning Council. Lee hopes to strengthen links between vaccine advocates and community-level prevention groups. “We need to tie into the service community, including mental health and substance abuse networks, so that they can take ownership of the vaccine agenda,” says Lee.

New Head, New Name for AVRC

On 4-5 September 2002, the AIDS Vaccine Research Committee (AVRC) of the National Institutes of Health reconvened with a new name—the AIDS Vaccine Working Group—and a new chair, Barton Haynes. Haynes heads the Department of Medicine at Duke University and is developing a peptide vaccine in partnership with Wyeth Lederle.

Founded in 1997, the AVRC was originally envisioned as a board of directors-style group for NIH’s vaccine program and was known unofficially as the “Baltimore Committee,” after its chair, Nobel laureate David Baltimore. In addition to Baltimore, three members—Barry Bloom (Harvard School of Public Health), Harold Varmus (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) and Dan Littman (New York University School of Medicine)—are rotating off. Four new members have joined the group: Bette Korber (Los Alamos National Laboratory), John Moore (Weill Cornell Medical College), Dennis Kasper (Harvard Medical School) and Gordon Douglas (former Vice President, Merck & Co.; former President, Merck Vaccines). The group’s new name was selected to better reflect its governance structure—including standing membership selected by the Chair—which does not fall within the rules governing official NIH committees.

Vaccine Group Included in HHS Inquiry

Twelve members of the US Congress have asked the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to launch an inquiry into federal funding given to 11 US groups, including the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and African Services Committee. These groups signed a flier demanding a “more rational” US response to global AIDS and participated in a demonstration at US Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson’s speech in Barcelona. The letter sent to HHS criticized the demonstrators for drowning out Thompson’s speech and expressed concern about the lack of representation from faith-based groups at the meeting. It also requested information on federal funds spent to bring US participants to Barcelona.

US AIDS service organizations, many of which receive some federal support, say that this is the first time the possibility of “retaliatory” actions has emerged in response to protests. “AVAC does not receive federal funding,” says executive director Chris Collins. “But that’s not the main issue. Our main concern is harassment of AIDS organizations exercising their legal right to critique domestic policy.”

New Roles for South Africa AIDS Leaders

After four years as president of the Medical Research Council, Malegapuru William Makgoba is stepping down. Makgoba, a champion of the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI), will assume a new role as Vice-Chancellor at the University of Natal. William Pick, head of the Community Health Department at the University of the Witwatersrand, will be the interim MRC head.

Ashraf Grimwood is the new head of the South African HIV Vaccine Action Campaign, SAAVI’s advocacy and education wing. Grimwood has served as chairperson of the National AIDS Convention of South Africa and Director of Scientific Affairs for the Bristol-Myers Squibb “Secure the Future” program.

Expanded Funding for Pre-filled Vaccine Syringes

A new UNICEF-sponsored program to increase vaccine coverage against maternal and neonatal tetanus will use a pre-filled injection device called Uniject to reach 118,000 women of childbearing age. Uniject has several advantages over traditional syringes: It cannot be reused; does not release toxic fumes when incinerated (as some syringes do); and can be used by non-medical professionals, including midwives, traditional birth attendants and school teachers, facilitating immunizations in remote areas. Indonesia’s Ministry of Health has begun using the device to expand neonatal hepatitis B vaccinations. The Seattle-based Programs for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), is preparing a cost-effectiveness report on Uniject.

Appointments at US-NIH, CDC

At the end of May, Jack Whitescarver assumed the directorship of the NIH Office of AIDS Research (OAR). Previously, Whitescarver was a liaison between the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and disease-oriented community organizations, and has served as acting director of the OAR since 2000. Julie Gerberding, an infectious disease expert specializing in AIDS and anthrax, is the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gerberding spent many years at San Francisco General Hospital, one of the epicenters of the early US AIDS epidemic. She is the first woman to head this agency.