Vaccine Shortage Shows Need for Better Regulation
Prompted by the CDC's announcement last week that there is a "dangerous shortage" of eight of 11 "crucial" childhood vaccines, a Washington Post editorial says that the federal government should "stave off future shortages by offering subsidies to vaccine makers or by aggressively overseeing the supply." The Post says that the shortages of vaccines for diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, meningitis and pneumonia "appear to flow from a series of coincidental setbacks" ranging from manufacturing problems identified by the FDA to one company's decision to stop producing the tetanus shots. According to the editorial, the "system's vulnerability to such glitches is a reflection of how few companies -- only four, down from 15 two decades ago -- now make the basic childhood vaccines." Many companies have said that the vaccines, which require living organisms and take up to a year to produce, are "hard to make," and some of the older vaccines have small profit margins. In addition, companies say that the research costs for developing new vaccines are too high. Noting that the CDC has recommended that pediatricians forego tetanus boosters for teens and delay diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccines for babies until the supply is replenished, the Post says that such rationing is "only the most stopgap of solutions." Instead, the editorial says that the government should follow the advice of the Institute of Medicine, which has recommended the creation of a "national vaccine authority" that would "monitor supplies, support research and, if necessary, get the government into the procurement or even the direct manufacture of essential vaccines." The Post concludes, "The political climate is probably hostile to such a new layer of regulation, and a federal panel convened last week to look at the problem failed to come up with any recommendation so specific. But given the hazards that would accompany a serious drop in the immunization rate, those aggressive options need more consideration than they have been given" (Washington Post, 2/22).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.