Carroll urges flu vaccines for only the most vulnerable

Vaccine shortage causes officials to consider action

October 07, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

With a full order of 7,000 doses of influenza vaccine on hand, Carroll County's health officer plans to begin holding flu-shot clinics tomorrow, but he is now asking that only residents in specific high-risk categories participate.

In a telephone conference call late yesterday, state and municipal health officials revealed that some Maryland counties have no vaccine, said Larry L. Leitch, Carroll's health officer.

Leitch said that his action was voluntary, but that a statewide redistribution could be ordered by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"It sounds like where DHMH may go with this," Leitch said. "The idea is to preserve the doses for possible redistribution to those counties which lost most or all of their flu vaccine."

News of a vaccine shortage emerged Tuesday when the supplier of nearly half the nation's vaccine, California-based Chiron Corp., announced that it would not be able to provide influenza vaccine this year. Company officials said a British regulatory agency suspended its production license for three months after a recent inspection of its plant in England that makes flu vaccine.

A company official said Chiron had expected to resolve the problem that delayed shipment of 46 million to 48 million doses after the discovery of several contaminated batches in August. Those batches were never distributed, company officials said.

"We're not really affected by that, as of yet, because we got all of our vaccine from [manufacturer] Aventis Pasteur" weeks ago, Leitch said. "So we have it here." But he asked that only those in specific groups go to the clinic tomorrow.

The groups are:

People 65 and older.

Children from 6 to 23 months old.

People ages 2 to 64 with chronic medical conditions.

Pregnant women.

Children ages 6 months to 18 years on chronic aspirin therapy.

Health care workers in direct patient care.

"If you are not in one of these groups, we ask that you not come," Leitch said. "We decided this is the best course of action."

His decision came after a 1 1/2 -hour conference call yesterday that included Carroll's communicable disease nurses, Leitch said. The consensus of the teleconference was to try to limit the Maryland supply to the high-risk groups.

"The idea here is to preserve as many doses as possible," Leitch said. "If we need to redistribute the rest of the doses around the state, we'll have some - because there are a number of counties who ordered most or all of their vaccine from Chiron, so they have very little or none."

The state did not order a redistribution yesterday but is considering it - something Leitch said he has not seen in almost 20 years with the county, first as Carroll's deputy health officer and then in the top job.

The 7,000 shots the Health Department ordered for this season is the usual amount, Leitch said.

"We can put in a supplemental order - but it doesn't look like we'll be able to do that this year," he said.

"Friday is our first big flu clinic," he said. "We normally give up to 2,000 shots on the first clinic."

The clinic, at the county Health Department at 290 S. Center St., runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow.

Flu vaccine costs $15 for all people not eligible for Medicare Part B. Medicare will be billed for Medicare Part B participants who present their Medicare card and are not enrolled in a Medicare HMO.

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