Despite both an infant vaccine shortage and new reported cases of HiB bacteria infection stateside, military medical officials at most overseas bases said this week that they continue to have adequate supplies of vaccine to immunize the community’s babies against the potentially fatal illness.

The only facilities still facing a shortage are in South Korea, a Military Vaccine Agency official said Thursday.

Sharon Quigley, an analyst for the Military Vaccine Agency in Seoul, said only 140 doses of the HiB vaccine are available.

"I spoke to two mothers recently who said they could not get their child started on the series because there weren’t enough doses to go around," she said in a telephone interview. "Now, I don’t know if that’s because it’s the end of the month or what, but there is a shortage. It’s a definite problem in Korea."

No infections from HiB, or Haemophilus influenza type B, have been reported in overseas military medical communities since a 2007 recall left vaccine stocks in short supply, according to medical authorities.

Full vaccine production by the drug company Merck is not expected to resume until this summer, leaving just one other company to produce the HiB medicine.

Before the recall, HiB infection — which can cause meningitis, pneumonia and death — had been drastically reduced since the vaccine’s introduction about 20 years ago.

The bacterial infection usually strikes children under 5, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The germs spread person-to-person and children usually pick up the disease by just being around others who may have the bacteria and not know it.

"The vaccine was briefly out of stock last year, but we have had an adequate supply since November," Brian Davis, spokesman for U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, said Wednesday. "To date, we have not had any cases of HiB infections at the hospital."

Tom Kanaris, regional analyst for the Military Vaccine Agency on Camp Courtney, Okinawa, said he knows of no public health reports or alerts regarding possible HiB cases in the Pacific region, including Japan and Korea.

The CDC is advising providers to withhold HiB booster shots to healthy babies at the 1-year mark to ensure all babies get HiB inoculations at the 2, 4- and 6-month stages after the December 2007 recall. However, the booster shots should continue to be given to high-risk children with immune syndromes and those who are Alaska Natives or Native Americans, the CDC advises.

There has been an outbreak of HiB in the Midwest due to babies not being vaccinated. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently reported that five Minnesota children were infected in 2008 and one died, the highest number of HiB infections there in nearly 20 years.

While the vaccine shortage could be contributing to the Minnesota HiB cases, the children involved were either not immunized or partially immunized, according to Dr. Joseph Bocchini, an American Academy of Pediatrics member.

Pediatricians are concerned that the longer children go without that booster dose at age 1, the more susceptible they might become to contracting HiB or to carrying the bacteria and potentially passing it on to others, even if it doesn’t make them sick, Bocchini said.

"The key thing is to keep the child up to date with immunizations as much as possible," he said.

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