RAF LAKENHEATH, England — A vaccine shortage that has left more than 100 infants here without a critical dose of preventive medicine got a shot in the arm Tuesday when a fresh supply arrived from Germany.

The 100 doses of the Haemophilus influenzae type b, or Hib vaccine, that Lakenheath hospital received from the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center should cover nearly all the babies who have not been inoculated in England in recent months, said Col. Ken McDonnell, 48th Medical Group commander.

“We’re starting to call the folks in and give them the Hib vaccine,” McDonnell said. “We’d like them to come in within the next week.”

The vaccine helps protect newborns from pneumonia, meningitis and other serious infections and is supposed to be given at 2 months, 4 months and sometimes 6 months, depending on the brand, with a booster shot between 12 and 15 months.

A December recall by the manufacturer, Merck & Co., has made the injection scarce and forced some hospitals to ration the vaccine now solely coming from Sanofi Pasteur, the only other manufacturer.

With the exception of Lakenheath, a sufficient supply of the vaccine has been available at the 700-plus hospitals and clinics within the European, Central and Africa commands, said Col. Kelvin Owens, commander of the USAMMC, which distributes the bulk of vaccines, medicines and other supplies to those sites as well as to State Department facilities.

“Sanofi is the only manufacturer at this time and because of our demand for this product we’ve been able to coordinate and contract with them to receive (875 doses) per month,” Owens said. “We’ve been able to support all of our customers’ requirements.”

USAMMC shipped the vaccine to Lakenheath on Monday. Stars and Stripes had asked the Army’s Europe Regional Medical Command about the shortage last week.

Before the latest 100-dose delivery, USAMMC had sent Lakenheath two smaller shipments of the vaccine since the recall. Those doses were given only to high-risk infants. McDonnell and Owens could not explain why the hospital went understocked.

USAMMC and Lakenheath officials are working together to ensure future demand for the vaccine in England is met “so we can save lives together,” Owens said.

“Most things are about communication and clearly stating your needs,” McDonnell said. “So I think what we’ve learned is that when we have difficulties we need to raise (our concerns) to the right folks, then the support comes.”

With a higher-than-average number of births at Lakenheath this month, McDonnell said he expects another large supply of the Hib vaccine will be needed in about two months when those infants require their first shot. The hospital has averaged 32 births a month since October.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to get them those vaccines,” he said. “We don’t want to have to play catch-up.”

Merck says it will be back to full-scale Hib production by the fall.

Immunization facts

¶ Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is a bacteria that makes a young child’s burgeoning immune system more vulnerable to other diseases and illnesses.

¶ Diseases caused by Hib include pneumonia, meningitis and cellulitis. It also causes swelling of the throat and various bodily infections, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

¶ Due to routine use of the Hib vaccine since 1990, Hib-related disease in infants and young children has decreased to fewer than one case per 100,000 children younger than 5, according to the CDC.

¶ In the U.S., Hib occurs mainly in underimmunized children and infants too young to have completed the series of Hib immunizations.

¶ Hib immunization consists of a series of three to four doses, starting in the second month and continuing throughout the first year.

¶ Two companies — Merck & Co. and Sanofi Pasteur — produce the vaccine. On Dec. 13, Merck announced a voluntary recall of its PedvaxHIB and Comvax vaccines, more than 1 million in all, resulting in a shortage felt across American pediatric care. The recall was due to a possible contamination of the vaccine.

— Geoff Ziezulewicz

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