Friday, October 08, 2004

U.S. Seeks Tainted British Vaccines

U.S. Officials Try To Salvage Flu Shots From Tainted Supply
Anxious Patients Stand In Long Lines For Shots
POSTED: 10:03 am EDT October 7, 2004
UPDATED: 4:40 pm EDT October 7, 2004

With flu shot clinics being canceled nationwide, U.S. health officials are trying to salvage some vaccine held up in a British factory.

They met with British regulators in London on Thursday to discuss Britain's move to temporarily shut down Chiron Corp., the supplier of half the American flu vaccine supply.

Britain defended the move, which stunned U.S. health officials this week. They say the vaccine was tainted with a bacteria.

American health officials wanted to examine test results. They also will visit the Chiron factory where the vaccine is being held to see if any can be salvaged.

Back in the United States, phones have been ringing off the hook in doctors' offices with patients eager to get the vaccine.

Flu shot clinics that have gone on despite the shortage have seen huge lines. In Potomac, Md., a flu shot clinic at a grocery store had such a large turnout that police had to be called to direct traffic.

U.S. health officials are scrambling to find out which cities and states will have the worst vaccine shortages.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it'll be weeks before that can happen. Most of the doses have gone to private distributors, not state health departments.

The government says it will urge those distributors to ration the vaccine out to those most in need -- the youngest, oldest and sickest.

"We don't get most of the high-risk people anyway. In a sense, the added focus will bring more of those people out and get them to medical care. A silver lining in a cloud," said Dr. Michael Elkort, of Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts.

"At risk" patients include: children between 6 months and 23 months old; adults 65 years and older; anyone with underlying chronic medical conditions; some pregnant women; and health-care workers and child-care providers.

"We're concerned there's not enough in the country to give to the children," said Lorretta Chow, mother of a 2-year-old.

However, experts say that Chiron didn't make any of vaccines designed for young children, so the supplies of that vaccine won't be affected by the shortage.