WASHINGTON (AP) – As delegations from around the globe discussed how to limit the threat of a bird flu pandemic, President Bush talked with drug company executives on Friday about what it would take to speed up production of a vaccine. Representatives from about 80 countries, meeting at the State Department, focused on prevention and containment of the virus. Meanwhile, at the White House, the president made it clear to the executives that he takes the threat of a pandemic seriously, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said. “We talked about the need for our discussions to not just be about the short-term but the long-term,” Leavitt said of the White House meeting. “We talked about the need for us to be looking at pandemic influenzas as well as the annual flu, and ways to integrate our approach to those two public-health problems.” Leavitt said the government’s goal is to increase capacity for annual flu vaccines to the point that companies could make a rapid transition to a pandemic flu vaccine if necessary. Executives were concerned about greater protection from litigation. If healthy people suffer side effects from a vaccine, manufacturers can face huge lawsuits, Leavitt said. “We’re going to have to deal with the indemnity issue,” he said. “Also, if we’re to build additional capacity with the speed necessary for readiness, we’re going to have to create a streamlined regulatory process for the development of new facilities.” Leavitt said the government would also have to assure vaccine manufacturers that they’ll have a market for the extra product that they make. Jean-Pierre Garnier, chief executive officer at GlaxoSmithKline, said the administration mainly wanted to hear from the manufacturers about what they could do to help. “The president was quite happy with what he heard,” Garnier said. “There’s clearly a spirit of cooperation with the administration and with other governments throughout the world.” This month, vaccine maker Sanofi-Pasteur begins the first mass production of a new vaccine that promises to protect against bird flu, producing $100 million worth of inoculations for a government stockpile. But it would take months to create a new vaccine from scratch if a different strain of bird flu than today’s emerges. Even if the vaccine works, Sanofi is producing enough to protect anywhere from 2 million to 20 million people – depending on how much must be put into each dose – and it’s not clear when or where similar large stockpiles could be produced. Leavitt briefed reporters on the private State Department conference before preparing to leave Saturday on a 10-day trip to Southeast Asia, where he will gauge for himself various countries’ capacity to monitor the virus and prevent its spread. The bird flu so far has killed about 60 people in Asia, mostly poultry workers. Millions of birds have been slaughtered to try to prevent the spread of the virus. Health officials are concerned about the possibility that the virus will mutate into a form that can be spread easily from person to person. Such a scenario would be catastrophic because people have no natural immunity to it. “In a world with international travel as prevalent as it is now, if there is a pandemic influenza anywhere, there is risk everywhere,” Leavitt said. He said he was heartened by the willingness of so many countries to participate in the conference and pledge their cooperation. A group of Democratic senators wrote Leavitt on Friday that they believe the U.S. response to the threat of a pandemic has been inadequate. Specifically, they said the government has not stockpiled enough medication to treat viral infections once they occur. “While other nations have ordered enough antiviral medication to treat between 20 and 40 percent of their populations, the federal government has only ordered enough to treat less than two percent of Americans,” the six lawmakers wrote. The lawmakers asked Leavitt to explain why the U.S. preparations are “behind those of other countries” and to “explain your plan to provide sufficient protection for the American people.” The letter was signed by Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Barack Obama of Illinois. The ordinary flu kills 36,000 Americans every year, far more than bird flu has killed anywhere so. The danger is that bird flu virus will mutate into a form that spreads easily from person to person. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!