Lakenheath out of Hib vaccine
Related article: ERMC will send doses of vaccine to hospital
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Babies born here in recent months are not receiving a vital vaccination due to a massive shortage that isn’t expected to improve until later this year.
The Lakenheath hospital has not had Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine in stock for six weeks, according to Maj. Pierre-Alain Dauby, head of Lakenheath’s allergy, asthma and immunology clinic.
“Everyone wants it, and right now we can’t get any,” Dauby said.
Infants typically receive three or four doses of the vaccines, depending on the brand. The injections are typically given at 2, 4 and 6 months, then again at 12-15 months. Those who go without the first two doses face an increased risk of bacterial infection that can lead to pneumonia and meningitis, among other maladies.
Before a vaccine was developed about 20 years ago, Hib was the leading childhood cause of meningitis, an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes, said Dr. John Bradley, infectious disease division head at the Children’s Hospital and Health Center in San Diego.
“Newborns should not be going without this vaccine,” Bradley said. “It is critical to get one to two doses in every baby.”
Since October, 225 babies have been born at the Lakenheath hospital, including 4-month-old Amelia McLamb.
At Amelia’s two-month checkup, doctors told her mother, Jinny, that the vaccine wasn’t available but that her daughter would get the shots at a later date when the vaccine was in stock.
But McLamb said she’s not too sure about the hospital’s plan to catch up on Amelia’s doses at a six-month appointment or later.
“It makes me uncomfortable,” she said. “That’s a whole lot of chemicals going into my child at one time.”
With all the various baby vaccines to keep track of, McLamb, 23, admitted she’s not thoroughly educated on them all.
“[The pediatricians] were like ‘It’s not a big deal,’” she said. “It didn’t seem like a big deal.”
McLamb said she doesn’t know what to think about the vaccine shortage.
“It’s my baby,” she said. “Tell them to get the vaccine.”
As of Friday, 72 of the babies born since October need at least one dose of the Hib vaccine, and 42 have not received any of the vaccine. However, no Hib-related health issues have been reported as a result of the vaccine shortage, according to Lt. Col. Rex Langston, 48th Medical Support Squadron commander.
The lack of Hib vaccine at Lakenheath, and for other American medical providers, is because of a December recall of more than 1 million doses by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. At that time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that doctors delay the final booster for 1-year-olds to conserve supply for infants requiring the initial two doses.
The Army’s Europe Regional Medical Command adopted the CDC rationing guidelines in December to conserve supplies.
“With the rationing, it’ll go further but we don’t know how much further,” Phil Tegtmeier, an ERMC spokesman, told Stars and Stripes in December after the recall.
It’s not clear how the shortages are affecting other military hospitals in Europe. A patient care representative in Naples, Italy, said the hospital has about 200 doses of the vaccine on hand.
Additional questions regarding the vaccine’s supply were directed to the U.S. European Command, which could not be reached for comment.
Merck says it will be back to full-scale Hib production by this fall. Until then, the collective “herd immunity” of a population that has received the Hib vaccine since 1990 should help prevent increased infection rates until October or November, said Dr. Lance Rodewald, director of the Immunization Services Division at the CDC.
This shared history may slow Hib from spreading until Merck’s forecasted return to vaccine production, he said, but it won’t delay new infection rates long after that.
“It’s very scary because it’s a very dangerous disease,” Rodewald said.
The vaccine is so essential that parents should consider going to a British doctor to get the shots, Bradley said.
While Lakenheath doctors cannot purchase or prescribe the British version of the vaccine because it is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Bradley said that version is safe and effective.
“If I was a parent and my doctor said ‘I can’t get you the (Hib) vaccine,’ I’d take my child off base to an English facility and get it there,” he said.
The lack of Hib vaccine for babies “turns the clock back to the early ’80s, before we had the vaccine,” Bradley said.
Those initial doses buffer a baby’s developing immune system. “They’re susceptible to the disease and all the complications,” he said. “When it’s completely preventable, that’s nothing short of tragic.”
Fast facts on immunization
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, as well as 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 United States, Hib occurs mainly in under-immunized 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