Flu vaccine shortage expected in Clayton

By Justin Boron

On the threshold of flu season, Clayton and Henry County health departments, along with health institutions across the nation, learned Wednesday they will have to work through a severe vaccine shortage resulting from the suspension of a major supplier's manufacturing license.

Public health institutions in both counties will not receive the more than 11,000 influenza vaccines ordered from Chiron Corp., which a British healthcare regulatory agency unexpectedly shut down Tuesday after reports of contamination surfaced.

Local health departments expect to turn away as many as 7,000 people looking to inoculate themselves from the virus.

The number could fluctuate in either direction, based on demand and any redistribution plan instituted by the state, said Sheryl Taylor, the public information officer for the Clayton County Board of Health.

Last year, demand exceeded supply, and the Clayton County health department is bracing for another high-demand year, she said.

The state Department of Human Resources held a conference with county health representatives from around the state Wednesday, where the director of public health, Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey, outlined how the agency would handle the shortage.

"Fortunately, this situation was discovered before any unsafe vaccine reached the public, and since the influenza season has not yet started, we have the opportunity to develop an effective plan to vaccinate the at-risk populations," Toomey said.

The Georgia Department of Human Resources is considering a statewide redistribution plan for the remaining vaccines, but it would not know how and whether the plan would be instituted until the end of the week, Taylor said.

If instituted, the redistribution plan could involve the donation of remaining vaccines around, Taylor said.

However, the state cannot compel private health-care providers to relinquish the vaccine, she said.

The donated doses would likely have been purchased from Aventis-Pasture, the only other manufacturer of the flu shots in the world.

Southern Regional Medical Center has just over 1,400 vaccines, said Linda Abercrombie, who works in the employee health department at the hospital.

But she said its vaccines are reserved for employees and high-risk in-patients at the hospital.

A health official at Clayton College & State University said the college's health clinic will open up its more than 200 vaccines to the public when it administers them on Oct. 19 and 20.

But priority would go to high-risk people, said Terri Lemons, director of the nurse-managed clinic at the school.

Meanwhile, the looming shortage has handcuffed vaccination efforts by the Henry County Health Department, said Alcencia Coleman, the Henry County nurse manager.

The Henry County Health Department will not receive any of the 5,000 vaccines it ordered, halting plans to administer the shots on Oct. 28, she said.

"There is nothing we can do. We have to purchase the vaccines a year in advance," Coleman said. "We may have to ask if they can go to other counties."

The Clayton County Board of Health also cancelled its vaccine clinic planned for Oct. 15, Taylor said.

Ninety-percent of its vaccine supply would have come from Chiron, she said.

Even if Clayton County receives vaccinations from the state, it would administer them according to guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control, Taylor said.

"We anticipate getting something," she said.

The CDC guidelines narrow eligibility for the vaccine to healthcare workers, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions, senior citizens, and children aged six to 24 months.

For everyone else, the state public health division is advocating increased personal healthcare.

"We are emphasizing critical personal health measures such as hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and encouraging people to stay home from work and from school when they are sick," Toomey said.

Part of the difficulty in filling the shortage rests in the decentralized distribution systems, stemming from the only two manufacturers in the world, Taylor said.

Each manufacturer has a complicated chain of distributors that each county in Georgia must go through, she said.

"All 159 counties in Georgia have to negotiate for their own vaccine," Taylor said. "It's not a very good, centralized purchasing process."

Aventis-Pasture is in the process of sending 413,000 doses to Georgia, which are being distributed to health departments across the state as they arrive.

The production of more vaccine could take at least six months, Taylor said.

CDC also is working with the company to alter its flu shot distribution so shipments go to parts of the country that had depended on Chiron's supply.

Daily Herald Staff Writer Kathy Jefcoats and the Associated Press contributed to this article.