The severe shortage of flu vaccine nationwide has forced the Carroll County Health Department to cancel its nine remaining vaccination clinics and prepare to turn over nearly 5,000 available doses to the state for redistribution.
Carroll paid the vaccine's French manufacturer $84,000 for 7,500 doses, 2,553 of which were administered at a clinic Friday. The county will seek reimbursement for the vaccine from the state, which is requiring its surrender, officials said yesterday.
"We still have physical custody of the vaccine in our facility, but we will be turning it all in so it can be redistributed," said Larry L. Leitch, director of Carroll's Health Department. "This whole plan is under development with details unfolding this week. It will be a logistical and a fiscal problem for us. Somebody has to reimburse us for the vaccine we are returning."
The national supply of vaccine was cut nearly in half after British officials suspended the license of Chiron Corp. last week. The California-based company, which makes the vaccine in Liverpool, England, was expected to supply about 48 million doses to the U.S. market this year.
The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will redistribute remaining vaccine supplies from Aventis Pasteur, the French drug company that is the only other supplier of flu vaccine to the United States. Areas such as Baltimore and Harford counties have no vaccine on hand, their health officials said.
Dr. Andrew Bernstein, Harford County's health officer, said yesterday that he had attempted to get 2,000 doses of FluMist, a nasal spray vaccine, for ambulance drivers and others at risk in the county. He was told by the manufacturer that no single entity could receive more than 70 doses.
"I still don't have any vaccine," Bernstein said.
The state health department has yet to announce a redistribution plan. Most government offices were closed yesterday for Columbus Day.
Carroll's unused vaccine remains in refrigerated storage in Westminster. As long as it is kept refrigerated, shipping it will not have any adverse impact, Leitch said.
After encountering delivery problems last year, Carroll officials ordered the maximum amount of vaccine it would need this flu season from Aventis Pasteur. The county received a full shipment this month and scheduled 10 clinics through Nov. 12 at various locations.
At the first clinic Friday in Westminster, health workers administered 2,553 shots, about 600 more than at a typical clinic, officials said. The other clinics were canceled Saturday.
"It is my understanding so far that all the areas that got the vaccine will have to turn it in so it can be redistributed," Leitch said. "This means, for the most part, that many people who should get the vaccine won't get it. I am sure a lot of people here were counting on subsequent clinics."
Officials tightened restrictions at the clinic Friday because of the shortage and limited the shots to high-risk groups, such as people 65 and older, pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions, health workers providing direct care and children 6 months to 23 months.
"The vast majority at Friday's clinic were the elderly and those with underlying chronic health problems," Leitch said.
Traffic near the county Health Department building became snarled early Friday, and lines formed about 90 minutes before the clinic opened.
"We opened at 8:30 because it was such a safety hazard, because we were afraid people would get hit because the cars were backed up," said Debbie Middleton, the department's director of communicable diseases. "We normally have a line - but not like this."
Middleton distributed consent forms requiring residents' signatures and addresses, and periodically repeated the categories of people eligible to receive the shots to those in line and asked those who were ineligible to leave. Several Pennsylvania residents were refused shots, she said.
The department was inundated Thursday with hundreds of calls from concerned patients. "We're telling people, `Don't panic.' ... We're having several other clinics," she said. But two days later the department issued the news release announcing the cancellation of the other clinics after the order to turn over its vaccine.
Staff writer Sherry Lyons contributed to this article.