Sunday, October 17, 2004

Britain Prepared for Flu Vaccine Crisis, Bush Admin. Didn't

MEDICAL NEWS TODAY, UK - Why did the British never allow themselves to become dependent on just two flu major flu vaccine suppliers like the Americans did? According to health experts, they did this in case the current Chiron flu vaccine crisis happened - to make sure the nation's people were not left in a vulnerable position.

Last August UK officials, with the same information the US officials had, decided something had to be done in case the Chiron supplies, 14% of UK supplies, went belly up. The US officials decided to believe Chiron and gamble 48% of their supplies on an assurance that everything would turn out fine despite some worrying set backs. . .

Even without this crisis, the UK authorities have always had a situation where they can fall back on six or seven suppliers that have been pre-approved by UK authorities. The US, on the other hand, only has two - one of which has let them down. . .

America's only other supplier, Aventis, may have upped supplies if they had been asked in advance - say last August - said an Aventis spokesman. But no one from the US approached them on this matter, not till after Oct 5.

WASHINGTON POST -In 2001, the General Accounting Office cautioned that ensuring an adequate flu vaccine supply had become more difficult because of a dwindling number of manufacturers and that problems at one of the two or three remaining vaccine makers could "significantly impact overall vaccine availability."

DENISE GRADY, NY TIMES - Public health experts have long cautioned against the country's dependence on a few vaccine makers, and yet this has become standard practice. . . In recent years there have been many significant disruptions of vaccine supplies. Between November 2000 and May 2003, there were shortages of 8 of the 11 vaccines for childhood diseases in the United States, including those for tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, mumps and chicken pox. There have been flu vaccine shortages or miscues for four consecutive years.

In recent decades, many drug companies in the United States abandoned the manufacture of vaccines, saying that they were expensive to make, underpriced and not profitable enough. Flu vaccine can be a particular gamble, because the demand for it varies from year to year and companies throw away what they do not sell because a new vaccine must be made each year to deal with changing strains of the virus. . .

The government did little to stop companies from quitting the business, and in some cases may have created policies that made matters worse. A report last year by the Institute of Medicine, a unit of the National Academy of Sciences, noted that 30 years ago, 25 companies made vaccines for the United States, whereas today there are 5.

Our clinics were out of flu vaccine last week. I wonder how many people might have missed their only chance to be inoculated....

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