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HEIDELBERG, Germany — U.S. Army health facilities in Europe will immediately start rationing a common childhood vaccine in the wake of a recall of about a million doses and fears of future supply disruptions, the European Regional Medical Command said.

The vaccine, called the the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine (Hib vaccine), protects against the bacterium that can cause meningitis, pneumonia and other serious infections in babies and young children.

Hib vaccine is recommended for all infants and children up to five years old. Doses usually are given at 2 months, four months, and a booster at 12 to 15 months.

“We have inventoried the stocks of the PedvaxHIB vaccine in our facilities, and found we had sufficient supplies of unaffected vaccine to carry us through the next two to three months,” Col. Curtis Hansen, the Europe Regional Medical Command pharmacy consultant and chief of Pharmacy Services at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center said in an ERMC press release.

ERMC facility staffs will immediately start a rationing plan recently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control: suspending the booster for 1-year-olds, except for those with conditions that put them especially at risk for Hib disease.

“With the rationing, it’ll go further but we don’t know how much further,” said Phil Tegtmeier, an ERMC spokesman.

The CDC said deferring the last Hib vaccine shot is not likely to result in any increased risk of Hib disease because of the protection provided by the earlier shots.

But medical staffs will be directed to keep “meticulous” records of babies who forgo the booster shot, so that when supplies return to normal, they can be recalled to get it, ERMC said.

The actions came after Merck & Co., Inc. announced on Dec. 12 that it has initiated a voluntary recall of 1.2 million doses of the vaccine due to concerns of a sterilization problem, found during testing of a plant in Pennsylvania.

Merck, which supplies about half of the nation’s supply of the vaccine, said that the recall was issued as a precaution and that no vaccine-associated health problems have been reported so far.

To date, no children seen at Army health facilities in Europe have shown symptoms that would indicate an adverse reaction to the vaccine, the ERMC press release said. The vaccine from the recalled lots is equally protective. The recall related to questions about the sterility of the vaccine, not its effectiveness against disease, according to a CDC news release.

Before the vaccine started being administered in the early 1990s, Hib caused about 20,000 cases of serious disease in young children in the United States every year. In 2002, only 167 cases of Hib were reported to the CDC.

More information on the recall can be found on the CDC Web site at Parents who have concerns about the vaccine should ask their doctor at their next regularly scheduled office visit.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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