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County braces for another flu shot shortage

November 16, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

There was good news and bad news Tuesday concerning flu vaccines in Washington County.

The good news was that only 3,700 of the 5,000 people who signed up for the vaccines showed up to receive them.

The bad news was that the Washington County Health Department has received only 4,000 of the 8,000 vaccines it expected this year.

As such, the health department is bracing for another flu vaccine shortage, said William Christoffel, the department's executive director.

Last week, ASD Healthcare, which distributes the vaccine, told the health department that it would not get the nearly 8,000 Fluvirin vaccines it requested, Christoffel said.

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The company blamed manufacturing and production delays for the reduced order, according to a memo sent to the health department Nov. 8.

The remainder of the shipment would be sent as soon as it became available from Chiron, a company that makes the vaccine, the memo said. Officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there was no guarantee that the county would receive more from the distributor.

Addressing the media last week, Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC's director, said 71 million doses of flu vacine had been distributed. She said the number might rise past the record of 83 million.

Gerberding said Chiron couldn't produce as much of its vaccine or as fast as it expected this year.

Of the 71 million doses, 55 million came from Sanofi Pasteur, 8 million from Chiron, 7.5 million from GlaxoSmithKline and 1 million from MedImmune, which produces a nasal mist vaccine, Gerberding said.

Chiron spokeswoman Alison Marquiss said Tuesday that the company expects to ship a maximum of 18 million doses by the end of November.

That's far less than last year. Chiron planned to ship 50 million doses, but its plant in England was forced to shut down because of problems meeting standards, creating crucial vaccine shortages.

Marquiss said Chiron expects to be back at full production of about 40 million doses next year.

ASD Healthcare did not immediately return a call.

"I find it unbelievable and unacceptable that they did not know about this problem until (Nov. 8)," Christoffel said. "This is the fifth year we've been short. There's not much we can do about it."

In the meantime, the health department temporarily postponed its Nov. 28 flu clinic. The department is trying to determine what to do about the estimated 25,000 people considered at high risk for influenza.

People older than 65, adults with chronic diseases or compromised immune systems and pregnant women are considered high-risk, Christoffel said.

Heath departments nationwide are dealing with shortages caused by distribution woes, said Donna Brown, of the National Association of County & City Health Officials. NACCHO is urging health departments to collaborate with private health-care providers to prioritize who receives the shots.

Christoffel said the county has been unable to borrow from private agencies because of the late notice.

CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell said the organization plans to provide vaccines to states facing shortages. A CDC official told the health department Tuesday that it could receive 1,000 to 1,500 additional vaccines by the end of the week, Christoffel said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services challenged local health officers to test their abilities to deliver mass immunizations this year. Tuesday's flu clinic was supposed to test the county's response in the event of a pandemic, Christoffel said.

Before the shortage, the health department and other health-care providers had planned to distribute 8,000 shots Tuesday - the most ever given in a day, Christoffel said.

The health department would have provided about 5,000 of those vaccines. The rest would have come from the other health agencies, Christoffel said.

Despite the shortage, the county was able to give shots from five locations, including a drive-through station at Community Rescue Service. It also proved that the county had enough manpower to handle mass vaccinations, Christoffel said.

Nearly 2,500 shots were given at the Hagerstown Elks Lodge.

Joan Vafakos of Hagerstown arrived early for her 10:30 a.m. appointment.

"I can't get over it," she said. "I thought they were here for a breakfast with this crowd."

- Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story

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