October 8, 2004

Plan for flu vaccine shortage in works

Featured Image

Kurt Spindler, medical director of Vanderbilt Sports Medicine, is right at home in the training room at McGugin Center, which is where he spends the bulk of his time at work.
photo by Dana Johnson

Plan for flu vaccine shortage in works

Shortly after word was received that Vanderbilt University Medical Center would not receive any of its ordered flu vaccine, hospital administrators designed a response plan focused on caring for at-risk patients.

All of Vanderbilt's allotment, 21,000 doses, was ordered from U.K.-based Chiron, the company whose entire manufacturing facility was closed Tuesday, Oct. 5 by British health authorities who feared supplies were contaminated.

Administrators quickly started working with pharmaceutical buyers, trying to secure available doses from Aventis, the only other flu vaccine manufacturer.

Once that vaccine arrives, "We will unroll a targeted vaccine approach that gives our most vulnerable patients and the health care workers who care for them top priority to the vaccine," said Melanie Swift, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine and medical director of the Occupational Health Clinic.

"As more vaccine becomes available we will expand our target population to include all health care workers with direct patient contact, and then to other faculty and staff," Swift said. About 8,000 employees have direct patient contact.

The Chiron vaccine was not approved for children younger than 23 months. But now the country will have to share the available Aventis vaccine, about 54 million doses. There are about 2 million doses of the nasal spray FluMist, but that has not been approved for use in children and is not available at Vanderbilt.

The anticipated shortage highlights the need for improved hand hygiene.

"It's even more important now that staff use the alcohol gel available outside each patient's room before and after each encounter with a patient and a patient's environment," said Tom Talbot, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine and Preventive Medicine and associate hospital epidemiologist. "If your hands are visibly soiled, use soap and water. Otherwise, the gel is just as affective and it doesn't dry your hands like soap does."

Talbot also said there's no way to predict the severity of the upcoming flu season. Last year, however, it hit Middle Tennessee early, in mid-October.

William Schaffner, M.D., professor and chairman of Preventive Medicine, was attending a National Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington D.C., on Oct. 5, when U.S. health officials received the word about Chiron.

"Everyone here is fretting about it," Schaffner said in a phone call early that morning. "It's adverse, but nobody knows how adverse. The people most in the know don't know."

"We will get through, of course, but it will be a huge headache because it will affect every provider of influenza vaccine in the country,'' Schaffner told The New York Times.

The shortage highlights the need for a national flu vaccination plan. Two studies in the Division of Pediatric Clinical Research will add critical information to the ongoing debate: one will test FluMist in children; the other will test the shot vaccine in children younger than 6 months.

For updates on flu vaccine for Vanderbilt faculty and staff, visit the Occupational Health Web page: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/HRS/wellness/occhealth.htm.