By WANDA REESE
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan health officials are closely monitoring state child vaccine supplies, following news of current nationwide shortages.
“This is unprecedented,” said Walter Orenstein, director of the National Immunization Program for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
“I have never seen anything like the supply problems with this many vaccines in the 24 years I’ve worked in immunization.”
According to the agency, shots intended to protect children against eight of 11 vaccine-preventable infections have been sporadically in diminished supply throughout the United States since last summer. Officials predict that some will continue to be difficult for parents to get for at least six more months.
CDC officials cite no sole cause behind the shortages, listing business decisions and unexpected demand for the vaccines. To cope with the problem, the CDC has been delaying deliveries to keep supplies adequate.
Vaccines included on the list are DtaP, a concert of drugs that protect against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (also known as “whooping cough”); MMR, another combination that protects against measles, mumps and rubella; pneumococcal conjugate, which protects against seven strains of streptococcus pneumonias; and varicella vaccine, which protects against chicken pox.
In Michigan, the Department of Community Health reports that supply levels are stable, the result of constant monitoring.
Like the CDC, the DCH also spreads out immunizations of certain vaccines to ensure there’s enough to go around.
“By delaying some doses we can ensure that more children have some level of protection as opposed to fewer children having complete vaccinations,” said Geralyn Lasher, DCH communications director.
Once supplies are back to adequate levels, Lasher said, any child whose shot was deferred, will be brought up to schedule.
According to the CDC, in the United States some shortages are widespread, while others are localized.
The agency recommends that local health departments and physicians keep accurate records for all children who miss any dose of vaccine, so that they can be recalled when supplies return to normal.
In March, more than 750 individual orders totaling more than 35,000 doses were on back-order for supplies of the varicella vaccine, manufactured by Merck & Co., according to Gillian Stoltman, director of Michigan’s communicable disease and immunization division.
“Delivery of a number of vaccines produced by Merck continues to be slow,” Stoltman said. “Varicella vaccine orders are currently taking more than a month from the time they’re submitted to the company by CDC, to the time the company ships doses to the providers.”
Stoltman said many Michigan health care providers state have only limited quantities of vaccine, and are trying to stretch their doses as far as possible with no indication of when the next shipment of vaccine can be expected.
Judy Williams, disease control supervisor of the Ingham County Health Department, said the agency has been able to maintain adequate levels of vaccine so far.
“We’ve prioritized our usage of tetanus and diphtheria vaccine, administering it only to higher risk people right now,” she said.
Supplies for residents of Crawford County appear to be stable so far.
“While the shortage is a very fluid situation, I think Crawford County is OK,” said Marilyn Pratt, immunization coordinator for District Health Department No. 10, located in Wexford. Officials in Emmet County could not be reached for comment.
While Merck continues to experience production problems, Wyeth Lederle, the other major U.S. vaccine maker, announced it would stop making vaccines last year, a move that immediately cut the supply of DtaP, a core immunization drug recommended for all children by age 6. That decision led to shortages in other vaccines.
In recent months, officials from government, public health departments, drug companies and medical organizations across the nation, have met to try to prevent future shortages.
To date, a number of possibilities are being considered, from financial incentives to vaccine makers, to changes in regulations, larger stockpiles and expanded liability protection.
“It has taken decades to get parents to come to us with their children,” said Dr. Louis Cooper, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics located in Chicago.
“And we are in the process of absolutely destabilizing that trusting relationship.”
But DCH Director James K. Haveman Jr. said the situation in Michigan is one that is under control.
“It is something we’re keeping close watch on,” he said.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By WANDA REESE