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Swine Flu Vaccine Scarcity Stirs Anger in U.S. Communities
Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- San Diego health officials said that the county expected to run out of swine flu vaccine yesterday after receiving only 25 percent of the 411,000 doses anticipated for October, as reports of shortages nationwide mount. New shipments may arrive "in the next week or two, we hope," said Jose Alvarez, a spokesman for the San Diego CountyHealth and Human Services Agency. From New York, where October deliveries fell short by 400,000 doses, to Dallas and Phoenix, which have postponed mass vaccinations, to San Francisco, where one family clinic is fielding 400 calls a day, local officials are being pressured by parents for swine flu vaccine as the death toll for children in the U.S. reached 95.
The U.S. received 8.3 million more doses of H1N1 vaccine from drugmakers in the last week, bringing the total available for distribution to 22.4 million, said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The supply isn't enough, he said in a call yesterday with reporters. Local officials and doctors agree.
"Some parents are very angry," said Joanne Cox, associate chief of pediatrics at Children's Hospital in Boston. "We have very high demand. The phones are ringing off the hook."
Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said on Oct. 23 that the U.S. won't get the 195 million doses it had planned for by the end of the year because of production delays at two drugmakers and one manufacturer's failure to gain regulatory approval for its product.
Vaccine Suppliers
GlaxoSmithKline Plc and AstraZeneca Plc, both based in London, Sanofi-Aventis SA of Paris, Novartis AG in Basel, Switzerland, and CSL Ltd. of Melbourne, Australia, provide the bulk of the U.S. supply.
While the U.S. may receive 42 million doses from the drugmakers to distribute to states by mid-November, that is 8 million fewer than earlier U.S. estimates, Lurie said. Local health departments are already feeling the pinch.
San Diego received only 100,000 doses of the vaccine it was expecting this month, Alvarez said yesterday. "As of this morning, we were running extremely low" after about 16,500 doses were distributed through county clinics over the weekend, he said.
Dallas County, in Texas, planned for a mass vaccination effort on Oct. 24. It had to cancel because it didn't have enough doses, said Zachary Thompson, director of the county's Health and Human Services agency.
'On the Back End'
"We may get a lot of vaccine on the back end, in November or December, but our goal is to do mass vaccinations as early as possible," Thompson said yesterday. News coverage has heightened awareness of the pandemic "and everybody is ready to take the vaccine," he said.
About 400 people a day are calling East Bay Pediatrics, a physician practice that serves about 14,000 children in Berkeley and Orinda, California, east of San Francisco, said Mary Gilbert, a registered nurse. The pediatricians' office received about 300 doses of the vaccine in mid-October, and the supply was gone in three days, Gilbert said.
"It's very hit or miss as to when we get the product," she said. "We just keep telling people to be patient. Most people are just scared from what they're reading in the newspapers."
Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix, has received about a third of the vaccine supply it had anticipated by now, said Rebecca Sunenshine, an epidemiologist with the Department of Public Health. In total, the county expects to get about 250,000 doses, she said in a phone interview yesterday.
'Tremendous Lines'
With temperatures in the high 80s, "we had tremendous lines" that lasted for hours over the weekend at pediatrician offices, pharmacies and clinics, Sunenshine said.
The county vaccinated 17,000 people on Oct. 24, focusing on higher risk groups, she said. A series of mass immunization programs at schools has been postponed, she said.
New York City will get 800,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of this month, compared with the 1.2 million it expected, said Jessica Scaperotti, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The vaccine program in schools starts today with 125 elementary schools.
President Barack Obama declared swine flu a national emergency on Oct. 24. The disease is widespread across the country and accounted for 411 confirmed deaths and more than 8,200 hospitalizations from Aug. 30 to Oct. 20, the CDC said.
Younger Population
While H1N1 produces similar symptoms as seasonal flu, it is targeting a younger population and can lead to severe illness and death. The seasonal flu kills about 36,000 people a year in the U.S., though the majority of those deaths are in people over the age of 80.
Ninety-five children 17 years old or younger have died from confirmed swine flu since April 2009, more than the toll for a typical year of influenza, according to the CDC Web site.
Concerns about shortages as a result of such reports is bound to boost demand from those afraid the product won't be available in time to head off the disease, the CDC's Frieden told reporters in his call yesterday.
About 11.3 million doses had been shipped to states as of Oct. 21, according to the CDC.
California received the most vaccine as of Oct. 21, at 1.3 million doses, according to the CDC's Web site. Texas was next with 831,400, followed by New York, at 729,100. As of then, 14.1 million doses were available for ordering. "In the next week or so, there will be a significant increase in the perceived and real availability of the vaccine," Frieden said yesterday. "We're working closely with the states to ensure the vaccine, once it is ordered, is delivered."
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