‘Severe’ Vaccine Shortages Leading to Rationing
Shortages of vaccines for eight of the 11 vaccine-preventable diseases are so "severe" that the CDC's National Immunization Program faces the "worst crisis" in its 29-year history, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal, supplies of the tetanus, diphtheria, chicken pox, hepatitis A and pertussis vaccines, among others, are running low, while a combined tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis vaccine has been in short supply for over a year. The Journal reports that the shortages are "largely because of manufacturing snafus" by Merck & Co., American Home Products Corp. and Aventis SA. FDA inspectors have discovered "numerous deficiencies" at Merck and AHP manufacturing plants, and Merck has been required to recall "dozens of lots" of its hepatitis A vaccine. In addition, AHP announced in January 2001 that it would cease making a tetanus vaccine. While Aventis "has been trying to make up for the shortfall" in tetanus vaccines, the Journal reports that the vaccine takes 11 months to produce.
According to the Journal, while there are "varied" reasons for the shortages, there will be "no easy solutions." Adm. Walter Orenstein, chief of the NIP, said, "If this continues much longer or worsens, we will have a major health crisis. We've got to hope we come out of this as soon as possible." In response to the shortages, the CDC has begun rationing. Supplies of tetanus and diphtheria vaccines can only be found in hospitals, emergency rooms and public health departments. Scheduled vaccinations for whooping cough, chicken pox and pneumococcal disease have been delayed. According to the Journal, many physicians are aware that delays and shortages may mean some children "never" get the appropriate vaccines. "You never catch up with many of these kids," George Peter, chair of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, said (Harris, Wall Street Journal, 2/11). According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the General Accounting Office is currently investigating the shortages. In addition, the HHS National Vaccine Advisory Committee today is holding a "strategy session" regarding the issue (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.