California Health Officials Consider Declaring Health Emergency To Redistribute Flu Vaccines to High-Risk People
Local health officials on Thursday asked the state to declare a statewide health emergency in order to "commandeer" flu vaccines currently in the hands of private entities and redistribute them to those at highest risk of contracting the flu, the Contra Costa Times reports. The request comes as local, state and federal health officials and providers across the country work to find needed doses of flu vaccine in the wake of Emeryville-based Chiron's announcement that it would not provide its flu shots this year (Kleffman/Silber, Contra Costa Times, 10/8).
On Tuesday, Chiron informed the U.S. government that British regulatory authorities had suspended the company's license to manufacture flu vaccines at its Liverpool, England, plant because of contamination issues. The plant manufactures Chiron's entire supply of flu vaccine for the United States, which accounts for half of the annual U.S. supply.
Prior to the announcement, the United States expected to have 100 million doses of flu vaccine. Now health officials expect to have about 56 million doses, mostly produced by Aventis Pasteur. Maryland-based MedImmune will produce another one million to two million doses of nasal flu vaccine spray.
In light of the shortage, federal health officials are recommending that providers limit vaccines to those at highest risk from influenza, including children younger than 23 months, seniors older than 65, health care workers and people with chronic diseases (California Healthline, 10/7).
The state has asked local health departments to talk to private retailers and other businesses that provide flu shots to determine who has the vaccine and urge them to aid in the redistribution of extra shots to those most in need of vaccinations, according to Kevin Reilly, deputy director for prevention services at the Department of Health Services. He said that if private entities and local officials do not cooperate, "the governor would have wide discretion to take possession of private property to deal with an emergency." Reilly added, "At this point we are keeping all our options open" (Griffith, Sacramento Bee, 10/8).
Howard Backer, chief of immunization at DHS, said that declaring a health emergency is not "a step that can be taken lightly."
However, Anthony Iton, Alameda County's health officer, said, "If we don't do anything about how the limited supply of vaccine is distributed in California, a lot of high-risk, low-income Californians are at risk of developing severe illness" (Contra Costa Times, 10/8).
With the exception of Los Angeles County, all California health agencies ordered their vaccines from Chiron this year and thus have no doses for high-risk individuals (Manning, USA Today, 10/8).
Los Angeles County has 21,000 of the 130,000 doses it expected to get. County Public Health Director Jonathan Fielding said the county has offered to purchase vaccines from health care providers who received their full allotment "at whatever price they paid." An estimated 2.8 million people in Los Angeles County are considered high-risk patients (Chong, Los Angeles Times, 10/8).
About half of local health departments nationwide have no flu vaccine, according to a survey of 150 local health departments by the National Association of County and City Health Officials. The survey also found that 85% of counties have canceled or delayed flu clinics despite rising demand for the inoculations (USA Today, 10/8).