WHITE OAK – Rep. Steny Hoyer said a new Food and Drug Administration research center being built in Montgomery County should include a facility to produce flu vaccine.
Hoyer, speaking Tuesday at the ground breaking for the next building in what will be a $900 million FDA complex at White Oak, said, “If the private sector can’t produce vaccines, the public sector must produce vaccines.”
The No. 2 House Democrat said he is serious about the proposal, but said he has no immediate plans for introducing legislation. He said will be exploring the idea with the FDA and Centers for Disease Control in the upcoming weeks.
He may also look at other options, he said, such as the government buying overstocked vaccines from private manufacturers.
The acting head of the FDA, Lester M. Crawford, said a more active FDA role in vaccine production was discussed in recent congressional hearings, but the agency and the Bush administration have taken no position on the issue.
Crawford and Hoyer were among a lineup of state and federal officials who turned up to don hard hats and throw ceremonial shovels of dirt on the site, which was formerly home to the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Also on hand were Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.; Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington; state Sen. Ida Ruben, D-Montgomery; and Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan.
They were there to break ground for a 127,000-square-foot “shared-use” building. The $23 million building will serve as the hub of the site and will include a conference center, cafeteria, credit union and employee gym, said Donald C. Williams, a General Services Administration regional administrator.
The shared-use building is scheduled for completion in 2006.
Bringing the FDA to White Oak has been in the works since the Navy lab closed in 1995, said Kristina Ellis, a business development specialist with Montgomery County.
Crawford said the FDA is currently scattered in 40 offices around the national capital area, and officials often have to travel 150 miles for meetings. Consolidating research facilities at White Oak will produce “palpable results,” he said, especially in cases, like the current flu vaccine shortage, where the safety and availability of drugs is critical to public health.
Ellis said funding for the project includes money to widen the stretch of New Hampshire Avenue at the site entrance. When finished in 2011, the site will include 14 buildings, housing a projected 7,700 employees.
She said it is difficult to predict the project’s economic impact on the county. But she noted that an FDA office currently located at the site, the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, pays an average salary of $100,000.
They are “good, high-paying federal jobs,” Ellis said. “That’s all anyone needs to know.”
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