Originally created 10/06/04

Flu vaccine supplies must be rationed



Augusta public health officials put all of their eggs in one basket, and it paid off in flu shots.

Others across the country may go wanting, however, as the British government shut down Tuesday one of the two major vaccine makers that was expected to supply nearly half the U.S. supply this season. Healthy adults were being urged to put off or forgo getting the shot this year so that the more vulnerable elderly and children can get it.

Chiron Corp. issued a news release Tuesday that British health authorities had suspended the license of its Liverpool plant to make the vaccine, saying it was not up to standards. The company itself had found a potentially tainted batch in August and delayed shipments but just last week said that it had corrected the problem and was still expecting to ship 46 million to 48 million doses of its Fluvirin vaccine. That was to account for nearly half of the 100 million shots available this year.

The United States will face "a significant shortage," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health's infectious disease chief.

Health officials are asking for voluntary rationing of what may be scarcer shots. People should not panic but be patient, checking periodically with their doctors to see if the shot is available, said Paul Fischer of the Center for Primary Care in Augusta, which has already delivered 1,000 of the shots and is hoping for more.

"We really have a two- to three-month window here before flu typically hits," Dr. Fischer said. Flumist, a nasal vaccine made from a live virus, recently dropped its price from about $60 a dose to $30 a dose, but it is not intended for people older than 50, Dr. Fischer said, and only about 1.5 million doses of it are expected to be available.

The East Central Health District in Augusta, which orders for the surrounding 13 counties, put its whole 14,000-shot order with Aventis Pasteur, the only one of the two major vaccine makers able to deliver shots to the U.S. market this year. East Central does not have any orders pending from Chiron, said Melba McNorrill, child health/immunization coordinator.

"No, we don't, thank goodness," she said. Other health departments in Georgia might not be so lucky - 256,000 of the 669,000 flu shots ordered for this season were supposed to come from Chiron, the Georgia Division of Public Health said. The state is looking to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Guidance, the department said in a news release.

None of South Carolina's 203,000 doses was to come from Chiron, but "we don't know if this development will change the priority for immunization," said a statement from Jesse Greene, the director of immunization programs for the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

All of the 12,000 adult doses expected at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics were to have come from Chiron, hospital spokeswoman Danielle Wong Moores said.

"At this point we're looking for some guidance from the CDC and calling alternative sources" for the vaccine, she said. The health system will get all of its pediatric doses, which were ordered through Aventis.

In fact, that's why the Augusta public health district has stuck with Aventis' Fluzone the past few years, Mrs. McNorrill said, because it covers a wider range of patients.

"It could be used for children or adults," she said.

The district received its first partial shipment of 3,500 shots last week, was expecting another partial shipment this week, and expected to have all of its shots by Oct. 15, Mrs. McNorrill said. That is, if everything goes as planned with the shots, which doesn't often happen.

"It seems like there's something every year with that flu vaccine," Mrs. McNorrill said.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com..

Shot Information

Columbia County Health Department will hold a walk-in clinic for flu shots from 1 to 3:30 p.m. today at its Appling office, 6420 Pollards Pond Road. The clinic will be repeated Oct. 18. Richmond County Health Department will begin its walk-in clinics next Tuesday from 8 to 10:30 a.m. and from 12:30 to 4 p.m. at its main clinic at 950 Laney-Walker Blvd. Shots cost $15 but are covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

ARE YOU At risk?

Health officials are urging that the potentially limited number of flu shots be voluntarily prioritized to those most at risk of flu, including:

  • People older than 65 or residents of long-term care facilities

  • Children 6 months to 23 months old

  • Pregnant women

  • Anyone 6 months and older with chronic lung or heart conditions, or those in and out of facilities to receive care for certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes

  • Children ages 6 months to 18 months on long-term aspirin therapy

  • Those who care for the high-risk population or who are capable of transmitting flu to them, such as parents of a child younger than 6 months