Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Doesn't this seem like outsourcing gone freaking haywire? So the United States is simply unable to produce flu vaccines at a reasonable price? And American public health is simply flying without a parachute??
A public health crisis faces the US as the influenza season begins, after US drugmaker Chiron was blocked from shipping half the expected US flu vaccines by UK regulators. . . .

�This season is gone,� said Howard Pien, Chiron chief executive. Mr Pien said the regulators' unexpected decision was likely based on concerns that the facility did not meet comprehensive new drug manufacturing standards.

The US now faces a shortage of vaccine doses. Chiron and Sanofi Aventis, the Franco-German drugmaker, are the two of the primary flu vaccine providers for the US. Chiron had been expected to ship 48m doses to the US, representing about half of the country's supply. MedImmune, a small US group, also makes a nasal spray vaccine.

Tommy Thompson, secretary of the US department of health and human services, said the Chiron move would not affect the supply of pediatric flu vaccine to young children between 6 and 24 months, which is produced by Sanofi Aventis.

He said the US had been surprised by the UK decision.
No kidding. It appears that even though Chiron is a British firm producing in a British plant, the British public will not be affected at all by this fiasco.
UK health officials said the country would not be affected because it secured additional vaccines from other suppliers.
Don't count on the one US supplier, MedImmune, to come riding to the rescue. While Chiron was to provide 48 million vaccines, MedImmune is scheduled to produce just 1-2 million. Moreover, MedImmune only produces vaccines for healthy people 5-49 years old.

According to the Washington Post, Aventis Pasteur is going to send 54 million doses. The CDC says not to worry. Yet according to the Census Bureau, there are around 6 million Americans age 6-23 months and around 36 million Americans age 65 and older. That's over three-quarters of the vaccines taken up by just the first two "priority groups". Throw in all the other priority groups:
  • persons aged 2�64 years with underlying chronic medical conditions;
  • all women who will be pregnant during the influenza season;
  • residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities;
  • children aged 6 months�18 years on chronic aspirin therapy;
  • health-care workers involved in direct patient care; and
  • out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children aged <6 months.
and you've got a lot more than 54 million people needing flu shots this year. Healthy people hoping to avoid the flu this year had better just forget about the vaccine altogether.

Tommy Thompson has a hell of a lot of questions to answer, although he may be out of office when old folks start dropping this winter.

UPDATE: Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said today that the United States has "a very fragile vaccine production system . . . We really need a long-term solution so we don't end up in this year-to-year situation where we don't have a reliable supply." Last year 36,000 Americans died from the flu, and all we hear from George Bush is the threat from f***ing terrorists?? Terrorism is an exciting thing to be afraid of and to debate ad nauseum, all while threats from every-day life kill us silently by the tens of thousands.

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