Amid flu vaccine shortage, Carroll cancels nine clinics

Doses to be turned over to state for redistribution

Regional

October 12, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

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 any 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 the Columbus Day holiday.

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 age 65 and older, pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions, health workers providing direct care and children age 6 months to 23 months.

"The vast majority at Friday's clinic were the elderly and those with underlying chronic health problems," Leitch said.

Leitch does not expect Carroll to receive any more vaccine throughout the season, which extends from November to March.

"All we can hope for is a milder flu season," he said.

Sun staff writer Sherry Lyons contributed to this article.

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