HOUSTON, June 1 (Xinhua) — The U.S. government on Monday awarded a major flu vaccine contract to MedImmune, a Gaithersburg, Maryland-based pharmaceutical company. The Department of Health and Human Services placed an initial 90-million-dollar order for the vaccine, intending to use it on high-risk populations in the event of a flu pandemic later in the year.

The contract comes less than two weeks after the department officials said they were setting aside about 1 billion dollars to test and purchase vaccines for the national stockpile to fight the unusual virus strain, called A/H1N1. Under the deal, MedImmune will continue to make its seasonal flu vaccine, but will now also develop a vaccine targeted specifically at the A/H1N1 virus that has caused the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise the pandemic alert level to the fifth of six stages.

On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a total of 10,053 cases in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with 17 deaths in 7 states, not including the latest two in the state of California. The agency has said in the past that confirmed cases of A/H1N1 flu represent about one in 20 of actual cases that means the total number of cases in the country is about 200,000. (Snip) Experts fear the virus, which has caused mostly mild flu cases so far, could become something more dangerous.

MedImmune’s vaccine differs from traditional flu vaccines. It is a nasal spray instead of an injection. Another difference is that the vaccine is formulated using live — but weakened – virus strains. (Snip)