Children’s Vaccine Funds Diverted To Purchase Imported Doses of Flu Vaccine
HHS officials on Wednesday announced that the department will use part of a $220 million grant intended to fund children's vaccination programs to pay for doses of German-made flu vaccine that HHS has agreed to purchase to mitigate the national flu vaccine shortage, the New York Times reports (Harris, New York Times, 12/16). The vaccine shortage developed in October when California-based Chiron announced that the British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency suspended the manufacturing license of a Liverpool, England, facility that produces about half of the U.S. flu vaccine supply. MHRA recently extended the suspension from January to April.
Before the shortage, U.S. officials estimated that the country would have 100 million doses. France-based Aventis Pasteur supplied the United States with 58 million flu vaccine doses, and Maryland-based MedImmune provided about three million doses of the nasal-spray flu vaccine FluMist. HHS officials earlier this month also agreed to import 1.2 million doses of GlaxoSmithKline's flu vaccine Fluarix, manufactured in Germany, after the vaccine received provisional FDA approval. U.S. officials could purchase an additional 2.8 million doses from GSK if demand for flu shots continues (California Healthline, 12/13).
Because of time sensitivity, FDA did not grant GSK full regulatory approval for the vaccines and approved them only for distribution as experimental medicines. Under that protocol, consumers must sign a consent form before receiving the vaccine. In addition, some recipients must pay a fee of $18 to $25, which is "over and above" the government's purchase price, the Times reports. The cost for the federal government to buy the vaccines currently is estimated at $8 million to $10 million, and it could increase to $30 million if the government purchases additional doses.
Under the plan, government money will be drawn from the childhood immunization grant -- which is intended to provide routine vaccinations to children in low-income families who do not qualify for state Medicaid programs -- to fund the GSK vaccine purchase, regardless of whether states receive the imported flu vaccine. Public health officials in Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington state have said they do not plan to receive the experimental vaccine. According to the Times, funding for the vaccine program before the money was diverted was "already so scarce" that 19 states have chosen not to provide all vaccinations recommended in the program.
Nebraska Chief Medical Officer Richard Raymond said that the funding reduction might lead to fewer children's vaccinations. Nebraska officials said they chose not to receive experimental flu vaccine in part because it is late in the flu season, and many state residents may be concerned about the safety of the vaccine. Rhode Island Department of Health Director Patricia Nolan said she is concerned that the funding diversion could jeopardize a state agreement under which insurers agreed to subsidize vaccines for all children in Rhode Island if the state and federal government contribute funding as well, such as that received under the grant.
Washington state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said, "We should not be pitting vaccines for children against vaccines for adults." The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials on Thursday plans to send a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson protesting the funding plan. The letter is signed by 19 major medical societies, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
During a press conference on Thursday, CDC Director Julie Gerberding is expected to announce survey results finding that many people in the high-risk group for contracting the flu have not been vaccinated, despite availability of the vaccine, according to spokesperson Tom Skinner. Gerberding also is expected to announce that the flu season has been mild to date. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Friday is expected to vote to expand eligibility recommendations "to ensure that vaccine doses are not wasted," the Times reports (New York Times, 12/16).
ABCNews' "World News Tonight" on Wednesday reported on the flu vaccine supply. The segment includes comments from Raymond and William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University and member of ACIP (McKenzie, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 12/15).
In addition, NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on the vaccine supply. The segment includes comments from Vermont Health Commissioner Paul Jarris, Minnesota Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach and Raymond (Knox, "Morning Edition," NPR, 12/16). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.