State, local officials say they get no aid, information from U.S. on vaccine crisis

The Nation

October 22, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Local and state health officials are complaining that their federal counterparts have given them almost no information on how to deal with the shortage of flu vaccines, and many say assurances that adequate supplies will eventually become available are hard to believe.

"We don't know where, when or how many flu vaccines have come into our areas or whether it's on the way," Mary Selecky, secretary of health for Washington state, said yesterday.

Ron Osterholm, director of the health department in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, said that his county had 14,200 people who qualified under the disease control agency's strict guidelines for flu vaccines.

So far, the county has received 3,816 doses of vaccines.

Osterholm complained that federal officials keep insisting that people should calm down and contact their local health departments for information, "But we've got no information to give them. Zero. Zip."

But Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, said yesterday at a news conference that the country had "healthy supplies" of vaccines and anti-flu drugs to handle even a difficult flu season.

He said 61 million doses would be available for the estimated 90 million Americans at high risk for flu.

Three years ago, the drug company Wyeth was making more than 20 million doses of flu vaccines annually. The company decided in 2002 to end its flu vaccine program. Two years earlier, King Pharmaceuticals had ended its flu vaccine program.

Their actions left the country reliant on Aventis Pasteur and Chiron to provide more than 100 million doses annually.

Dr. Walter Orenstein, who until earlier this year was the director of the national immunization program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the government should have used incentives to coax Wyeth and King to keep making flu vaccines.

A spokesman for King Pharmaceuticals did not return phone calls. A spokesman for Wyeth, Doug Petkus, agreed with Orenstein.

"They didn't even approach us," Petkus said. "We might have considered their offer if such an offer was made."

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