The Vaccine Mess Alert

Medical Authors and Editors: Frederick Hecht, MD and Barbara K. Hecht, PhD

Oct 6, 2004 -- The sudden shortfall in flu vaccine has prompted the US Department of Health and Human Services to issue a press release. In it HHS admits that the situation presents "a serious challenge to our vaccine supply for the upcoming flu season."

We present the HHS press release (below) and our view of the situation.

A "Serious Challenge"

To say that the situation presents a "serious challenge" may be something of an understatement. Coming just as the flu season is starting, the loss of the Chiron flu vaccine means there will almost surely be a very significant shortage of flu vaccine this winter.

Tommy Thompson, secretary of HHS echoed the challenge theme at his news conference yesterday, saying: "This is very disappointing news that creates a serious challenge to our vaccine supply for the upcoming season."

What Happened

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in Britain has suspended Chiron's manufacturing license for making flu vaccine for three months because of a concern about sterility. What that means is that they found contamination.

In fact, back in August, contamination was found. It involved a type of bacteria called Serratia. This type of bacteria is commonly found in the environment. It occurs on plants, in soil, and in water.

Serratia

Serratia is normally not harmful to healthy people but it is what is known as an opportunistic pathogen. Given the opportunity, Serratia can spell trouble.