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Wednesday, October 6, 2004



Flu vaccine
shortage prompts
isle cutbacks

HMSA temporarily suspends
its influenza immunization clinics


State health officials are urging healthy adults to delay or forgo their flu shots this year after the nation's vaccine supply was abruptly cut nearly in half yesterday.

Hawaii Medical Service Association, the state's largest medical insurer, responded by temporarily suspending its flu immunization clinics.

Yesterday, British regulators suspended the license of the world's second-largest flu vaccine supplier for three months, cutting Americans' supply of the flu vaccine by 46 million doses during the October-November flu season. They cited manufacturing problems at supplier Chiron Corp.'s Liverpool factory, where the company's popular Fluvirin flu vaccine is made.

"The unexpected shortage in flu vaccine supply is challenging. It is important to remember that we have faced shortages in the past and have gotten through them," said Linda Rosen, Health Department deputy director.

"We are asking for the public's help to make sure the vaccine goes to those who need it most."

The Health Department, based on guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identified children 6-23 months, adults over 65, pregnant women and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities as priority groups for the influenza vaccine.

The CDC also included adults with chronic medical conditions, health care workers, out-of-home caregivers and children receiving chronic aspirin therapy in the high-risk group.

Residents who do not fit the above categories should forgo or defer their flu shots this year, the Health Department said.

Meanwhile, HMSA said it has suspended all immunization clinics scheduled for this month on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.

HMSA said it held five clinics earlier this month before the vaccine shortage was announced.

With the loss of the roughly 46 million vaccine doses from Chiron Corp. for the United States, only about 54 million flu shots will be available this year from a competing firm.

The government has urged voluntary rationing before, during a shortage in 2000. This year, however, will mark a record shortage just before flu season begins.

"We will need the help of the public," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

Chiron's problem began in August, when it discovered contamination in a small amount of vaccine that delayed its U.S. shipments. Still, top U.S. health officials assured the public less than two weeks ago that close monitoring showed the rest of Chiron's supply was fine, and plenty of vaccine would be available.

Yesterday, British regulators disagreed and suspended Chiron's license for three months, officially prohibiting export of the Fluvirin brand that Chiron manufactures in Liverpool. The sanction means more than a delay, Chiron officials said. The company will ship no Fluvirin anywhere this year.


Star-Bulletin reporter Rick Daysog and
the Associated Press contributed to this report.



State Health Department
www.state.hi.us/health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov

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