HEIDELBERG, Germany — Sometimes, the Army moves fast.

Brig. Gen. Keith Gallagher, commander of the European Regional Medical Command, was quick to step in Friday when he heard that the RAF Lakenheath hospital in England had apparently run out of a vaccine to protect newborns from meningitis, pneumonia and other serious infections.

Asked if Army hospitals and clinics under his command had the same problem, he said no.

Then, although the Air Force hospital isn’t part of his command, he said, “They can call me. I’ll certainly try to help them out. We’re all in the same business, and we can help each other.”

Then he decided that wasn’t quite good enough.

Gallagher called Col. Kelvin Owens, commander of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center in Pirmasens, from which ERMC facilities order their vaccines, among other medical supplies.

Did Owens have enough vaccine to ship some doses to Lakenheath, he asked?

Owens said yes.

“He will ship some of those doses on Monday,” Gallagher said.

The vaccine — for Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) — has been rationed throughout the United States and at ERMC facilities since December because of a shortage after the manufacturer, Merck & Co., announced 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 provided about one-half of the nation’s supply of the vaccine.

Because of the shortage, ERMC facility staffs started a rationing plan. It suspended the booster for 1-year-olds, except for those with conditions that put them especially at risk for Hib disease.

When supplies returned to normal, the babies who didn’t get their booster, would get them.

Gallagher said the ration plan is still in effect throughout ERMC.

Officials at RAF Lakenheath’s hospital could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Related article:

Lakenheath out of Hib vaccine

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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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