Many lack flu shots

Problems delay shipment of vaccine, manufacturers say

`A terrible thing'

Officials wanted high-risk patients immunized by Nov. 1

November 12, 2001|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Delayed deliveries of influenza vaccine to primary care physicians may be increasing the risks to elderly or chronically ill patients, public health officials are warning.

"They need to be vaccinated immediately. They should not wait around," said Greg Reed, program manager at the state health department's Center for Immunization

Those high-risk patients should have been vaccinated by Nov. 1, Reed said. If their doctors are unable to get the vaccine for them, they should go to commercial flu clinics or, if they can't afford the private clinics, call their local health departments.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there should be no shortage of flu vaccine this year. Three drug makers are expected to produce at least 85 million doses before the season ends, up from about 70 million doses last year. But production difficulties have forced manufacturers to ship vaccines late, or in small batches.

Some doctors have turned to middlemen, who charge far more than the manufacturers' rates. "It's certainly been frustrating to patients, and physicians and their staffs," said Dr. Alan Baldanza of Cockeysville, a private physician who said he has been able to purchase only a single vial of flu vaccine - 10 doses - for his patients.

Instead of coming to him, his high-risk patients are going to flu clinics at grocery stores, which seem to have an ample stock.

"One of my patients said her mother had to stand on line for two hours before she got the shot," he said. "And I'm sure there were some who can't stand in line for two hours and didn't get the shot. It's kind of crazy."

Dr. Barbara G. Cook, vice president of medical affairs at Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, said her offices in the Baltimore region received only a quarter of their 14,000-dose vaccine order in September, then ran out. Another 30 percent arrived last month and was used quickly.

That left about half of her high-risk patients unvaccinated more than a week after the Nov. 1 target date. "It is a terrible thing to do to patients that have these chronic diseases," she said.

Cook also has been unable to get any vaccine from the state's Vaccines for Children program, which serves children from low-income families who have chronic illnesses. She said her East Baltimore office has 2,000 qualifying children on record, but that none has been vaccinated.

Reed, of the Center for Immunization, said that program recently received its first 17,000 doses. Manufacturers say this year's vaccine production has been slowed by technical challenges and the withdrawal of one of last year's manufacturers. Natalie DeVane with Wyeth Lederle Vaccines said her company couldn't begin shipping vaccines until late last month.

The city Health Department had placed its entire flu vaccine order with Wyeth, said Assistant Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Firth. When the vaccines didn't arrive in time, the city turned to a broker and paid "several multiples" of Wyeth's price, she said.

Aventis Pasteur, which produces more than half the nation's flu vaccine, says it has cut the amount of flu vaccine it sells to middlemen to discourage price gouging.

"We certainly don't condone those practices," said Aventis spokesman Len Lavenda.

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