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Flu vaccine shortage still vexing

October 24, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Local health officials plan to meet this week to discuss the nationwide shortage of flu vaccine and the chances of Washington County getting more doses.

Washington County Health Department and Washington County Hospital staff members will meet Monday, health department spokesman Rod MacRae said.

The health department normally orders 6,000 to 7,000 doses, but as of Thursday, it had received none, MacRae said.

The department placed its order with Emeryville, Calif.-based Chiron Corp. in the summer, MacRae said.

In early October, Chiron Corp. was barred from shipping any doses to the United States because of contamination at its Liverpool, England, plant, according to The Associated Press.

Chiron Corp. issued a statement in July that it expected to send 52 million doses to the United States, at least one-third more than it had ever sent.

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On Aug. 26, Chiron Corp. announced that it was delaying its shipment because of "a small number of lots that do not meet product sterility specifications." It also tapered the estimate to between 46 million and 48 million doses.

On Oct. 4, the United Kingdom's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency suspended Chiron Corp.'s flu vaccine manufacturing license for three months, halting the shipment plan.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said the shutdown eliminated about half of America's planned supply of vaccine doses, leaving Aventis Pasteur of Swiftwater, Pa., as the only major producer.

On Tuesday, Aventis Pasteur said it will supply 2.6 million more doses, for a total of 58 million.

MacRae said he didn't know if or where Washington County might find new doses or how many.

"We haven't heard any hard, fast numbers," he said.

Still, there is time, since the flu season typically starts in December or January, he said.

So far, the county has not had any cases of the flu reported. MacRae said there has been "a scattered report or two," but none has been confirmed.

Dr. Robert Guedenet said that his practice, Family Medicine Center in Keedysville, received a small shipment of doses for uninsured children younger than 2 years old. As of Friday, the center had some doses left.

President Bush has urged those who don't need a flu vaccine to go without one, so that those who do - such as infants; people age 65 or older; and people with certain medical conditions - can get one.

People who are old, young, sick or pregnant, especially, can suffer serious problems if they get the flu, which kills about 36,000 people a year in the United States, according to the CDC.

An alternative dose for healthy people ages 5 to 49 who are not pregnant is FluMist, a nasal spray flu vaccine, according to MedImmune, which produces it.

MedImmune, which is based in Gaithersburg, Md., announced Thursday that it will boost production, making about 3 million doses instead of about 2 million.

MacRae said FluMist is readily available in Washington County.

"So far, it's easy (to get)," Guedenet said.

"I know that we're taking orders," said Susan Vassallo, a spokeswoman for Henry Schein Inc. in Melville, N.Y., which distributes FluMist. She didn't know where in Western Maryland it had been sent or requested.

The Associated Press has reported that the Food and Drug Administration is negotiating with a Canadian manufacturer to get about 2 million doses of injectible flu vaccine and also is trying to get 5 million surplus doses from around the world, particularly the French government.

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