Sen. Claire McCaskill calls for no-bid smallpox vaccine investigation

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) recently requested an investigation into the awarding of a $433 million no-bid contract to the maker of an experimental smallpox vaccine by the Obama administration.

McCaskill said the five year contract issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to Siga Technologies raises questions about a conflict of interest. Siga Technologies is a New York-based company run by a major Democratic donor, according to ABC news.

McCaskill expressed her worries in a letter to HHS inspector general David Levinson. The drug reportedly costs $255 per dose, in part because the company did not have to compete for the contract. In the letter, McCaskill noted that the drug, ST-246, may not be effective because of its short shelf-life and because it has yet to be tested on humans. McCaskill chairs a panel that oversees government contracts.

“Under the contract, the department will acquire 1.7 million doses of smallpox vaccine for the strategic national stockpile,” McCaskill wrote, ABC news reports. “The vaccine is reported to be more expensive and has a shorter shelf-life than the vaccine currently in the SNS, and it is unknown whether this produce is actually safe for human use.

“I request that you review the circumstances surrounding the award of the contract, including whether it was reasonable in light of the risk of a smallpox outbreak and the reported shortfalls with the Siga Technologies vaccine."

Siga is backed by Ronald O. Perelman, one of the world’s richest men and a major donor to Democrats and particularly the Obama administration. The company has spent more than $500,000 lobbying Washington since 2009. McCaskill said the money used for the contract had been set aside by Congress for small business, which Siga Technologies is not.