Originally created 01/12/04

State officials attempted to buy vaccine from military



ATLANTA -- Under pressure from local health workers, Georgia Division of Public Health officials were so desperate to buy flu vaccine last month that they contacted Fort Stewart in search of extra supplies.

This flu season was severe and came earlier than usual. Well-publicized flu-related deaths in Colorado and elsewhere sent many patients to doctors and clinics looking for vaccinations. By early December, major producers announced they had run out of vaccine for the season.

By Dec. 8, Georgia Public Health Director Kathleen Toomey's office issued guidelines for rationing Georgia's dwindling vaccine supply. What followed was a flurry of e-mails between Toomey's office, health districts and potential suppliers, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday.

The state on Dec. 8 bought 400 vials for $149 per vial, at a total cost of $59,600, from Dubin Medical Inc., a San Diego-based medical supplier.

On Dec. 10, Audrey Ware, the state Division of Public Health's pharmacy director, e-mailed a doctor at Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia, asking if the military would "be open to making available any unused vaccine to state public health systems such as ours here in Georgia. The State Public Health Director, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, is very interested if this is a possible resource."

The military doctor replied several hours later that he also was facing a shortage and had no vaccine to offer.

In the frenzied environment, Georgia public health officials made an ill-fated deal Dec. 17 in an unsuccessful attempt to purchase 100,000 doses of flu vaccine for $1.65 million from Adaptable Medical Services in Houston.

But the medical supply company had no vaccine. The company took the state's money and contacted Florida dealers for supposed supplies. Of four brokers in three states who handled Georgia's money, none actually had supplies of the medicine.

After a much publicized launching of an FBI investigation into allegations of fraud, Georgia got its money back - but no vaccine.