US Desperate for Vaccines

10-13-04 - WASHINGTON (AP) The US Attorney in New York has subpoenaed information from Chiron, the major flu vaccine supplier for the US, on the unexpected shutdown of a plant in Great Britain.

British regulators closed the Liverpool plant last week, freezing shipment of 48 million expected flu shots.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's taking every step to get an equitable distribution of available vaccine. The medicine is being sent straight to pediatricians, nursing homes and other places that care for the youngest, oldest and sickest people - those who need it most.

But only a fraction of the 22.5 million doses made by Aventis Pasteur can be diverted to areas with the biggest shortages, meaning many high-risk patients will be left out.

The FDA is hoping to acquire 1.5 million doses from Canada.

In Oklahoma, Health Department officials want private companies to donate unused influenza vaccines so high risk groups can be immunized.

Oklahoma is short more than 300-thousand doses of flu vaccine and health care providers are scrambling to find enough shots to vaccinate high risk groups like the elderly, children and care givers who might be exposed to the virus.

State Health Commissioner Doctor Michael Crutcher says many companies have purchased vaccines for employees and may be willing to share their vaccinations. Crutcher says the companies could get a tax break or the state could pay them for the vaccine.

Last week when British regulators shut down a major US supplier of the flu vaccine, it threatened the supply of vaccine to the Health Department's 100 locations, including county health departments and physicians who serve Medicaid clients.

The CDC said it is working with Aventis Pasteur, the one remaining licensed supplier of influenza vaccine, to distribute unshipped vaccine to areas of need throughout the United States.

Oklahoma is likely to receive some of those doses, but health officials are uncertain how much they can expect.