Vaccine Shortage Leaves Children Vulnerable, GAO Report Says
At least 30 states have loosened immunization requirements for children entering school, and more than 40 states have begun rationing vaccines, including those for measles, rubella and chickenpox, because of shortages, according to a report by the General Accounting Office, the New York Times reports. The report, requested by six senators and two representatives, said that in the last year, children were "endangered" by a lack of five vaccines that protect against eight diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox and pneumococcal disease. Dr. Timothy Doran, chair of the pediatrics department of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, said, "In my 22 years of practicing pediatrics, I have never witnessed a vaccine shortage such as we have seen over the last year. The system is a lot more fragile than we had thought." The report notes that the shortage, which increases the risk of disease outbreaks, could be related to vaccine manufacturers' production problems, difficulty complying with federal standards, production stoppage, high demand for new vaccines and the need for vaccine reformulation.
The report also notes that the nation's vaccine supply is "easily disrupted" because one manufacturer produces five of the eight childhood vaccines, the Times reports. The companies are not required to notify the government of their intent to stop making a vaccine and cannot immediately increase vaccine production because the inoculations require at least one year to produce. Further, the threat of lawsuits, more than 100 of which have been filed by parents who claim their children suffered nerve damage because of a vaccine preservative, have prompted many manufacturers to consider "withdrawing from the market," the report says. While the report notes that the federal government has the authority and funds to stockpile vaccines, health officials do not know how many doses of vaccines to set aside and where to store them. According to the CDC, amassing stockpiles of common childhood vaccines could take four or five years. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said, "It's clear from this report that we have a system that cannot guarantee a stable supply of vaccines and is inadequate to handle a potential outbreak of any number of routine childhood diseases." The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is scheduled to hold a hearing today on the vaccine shortage (Pear, New York Times, 9/17).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.