U.S. military loses bid for 250,000 FluMist doses

Others also are finding nasal spray in short supply

October 14, 2004|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

The U.S. military has been shut out in its bid to get as many as 250,000 doses of MedImmune Inc.'s FluMist influenza vaccine, and others are finding supplies to be tight at a time when conventional flu shots are in short supply.

Demand for the nasal spray vaccine is only likely to increase as more insurers opt to cover FluMist.

Yesterday, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield announced it would pay for the FluMist vaccine.

CareFirst, whose 2 million Maryland members - among its 3.2 million total members - make it the largest health insurer in the state, said it decided to cover the cost of the more-expensive FluMist since flu shots are not available to many people.

Many of the nation's largest insurers have done the same.

Defense Department officials said yesterday that FluMist distributor GIV, a subsidiary of Henry Schein Inc., had notified the military that it would get none of the quarter-million doses - nearly a quarter of the 1.1 million dose production run of FluMist - it had sought.

"We had asked for 250,000 [doses], but we would have taken whatever they gave us," said Tom Daley, director of the pharmaceutical group for the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia, which handles medical procurement for the armed services.

Caught short

The military, which had expected to get 70 percent of its flu vaccine from Chiron Inc., was caught short after British health regulators suspended the license of the drugmaker's Liverpool manufacturing plant, citing safety concerns.

The abrupt disruption nearly halved the U.S. flu shot supply for the coming flu season.

FluMist is approved for use only in healthy people age 5 to 49; it is a prime option for that segment of the population because health authorities are urging flu shots be reserved for those at high risk, including the very young and the elderly.

But with just 1.1 million doses of the nasal-spray vaccine produced, and nearly 1 million more due in late November or early December, the supply of FluMist comes nowhere close to the more than 40 million flu shots that Chiron had been expected to supply to the U.S. market.

Gaithersburg-based MedImmune declined to comment yesterday on FluMist supplies in advance of next week's planned announcement of the firm's third-quarter earnings, a spokeswoman said.

Officials at Schein referred questions about FluMist sales back to its client.

However, the Melville, N.Y.-based distributor acknowledged that requests for FluMist were soaring.

`Strong demand'

"We're seeing strong demand - absolutely," said Schein spokeswoman Susan Vassallo.

Fran Lessans, president of Passport Health, said the Baltimore-based franchiser of shot clinics also had not succeeded in securing more FluMist.

After initially receiving only 45 FluMist doses, Passport had ordered 240 more. They will be getting only 140 doses, Lessans said.

"They're sold out," Lessans said. "We're being told that we're not going to get [close] to what we ordered." .

"We have to just hope for the best and just hope that there's no [flu] pandemic" this year, she said.

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