The Vaccine Mess Alert
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"
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."
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.
In people with a compromised (weakened) immune system, Serratia can cause infection of the blood (sepsis), wound infections, and infections of the endocardium (of the heart) and the urinary and respiratory tracts.
And part of the problem is that the high-risk groups for the flu who most need the flu vaccine are precisely those with a weakened immune system.
Another part of the problem is that the finding of Serratia in the vaccine is a red flag, It is a warning that who knows what else may be contaminating the vaccine.
A Coalition Problem
Caught Off Guard
Was the US Food & Drug Administration remiss? The FDA licensed the Liverpool plant to supply the US. Is the FDA not responsible for overseeing the production of the vaccine there?
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in Britain did their job but did the FDA? Why were they not on the same page?
The Sum of the Matter
Since 1998, there have been shortages of 9 of the 12 vaccines for American children. Little wonder. Seven of the 12 vaccines for kids are made by a one company. And only a few companies make the majority of all vaccines for the US.
What is needed is for the US government to not just put a bandaid on the flu vaccine problem but to address the whole vaccine mess. Free market forces have failed to provide a reliable supply of vaccines. The government has got to do more than issue press releases.