Washington Post Examines Reasons Behind Shortage of Childhood Vaccines
The Washington Post on Saturday reported on the shortage of eight of 11 childhood vaccines, which have been "intermittently in short supply" since last summer and will continue to be so for at least six more months. Business decisions, "bad luck and greater-than-expected demand" have contributed to the shortages, which public health officials call an "extremely ominous development." The vaccines in short supply are the DTaP "triple-combination," which protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; MMR, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella; pneumococcal conjugate, which protects against seven strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae; and varicella, which defends against chickenpox. The Post reports that the small number of American companies that make vaccines -- traditionally a "high-volume, low-profit" product -- has contributed to the shortages, as companies have "stampede[d] away from the business" in recent years. In addition, vaccines are difficult to produce, and vaccine production is closely regulated by the FDA, leading some vaccine makers to say that they are unable to operate profitably.
Representatives of the federal government, pharmaceutical companies, public health departments and medical societies have discussed implementing financial incentives, regulatory changes, larger stockpiles and greater liability protection in order to avoid future shortages. Some health officials have also proposed establishing a National Vaccine Authority, which would assist in vaccine development oversight, and constructing a federally run production plant. The pharmaceutical industry has offered "little support" for those proposals, the Post reports (Brown, Washington Post, 4/20).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.