Stuttgart parents troubled by vaccine shortage, newborns getting medicine from recalled lots
July 6, 2008
STUTTGART, Germany — Rebecca Terry thought it was weird that the local Army clinic was out of a common vaccine for her infant, so she went online to find out why and got a shock.
Not only had the vaccine — to protect against diseases caused by Hib bacteria — been recalled by its manufacturer, but her then-2-month-old daughter, Brianna, had apparently been injected with the vaccine in March, three months after it was recalled.
"I thought, ‘That can’t be,’" Terry said after comparing vaccine lot numbers against Brianna’s medical record. "But I looked again and thought, ‘Oh, my goodness.’"
For two weeks, Terry pressed health officials for answers as to how Brianna was injected with a recalled vaccine at Stuttgart’s Army Health Clinic. "I have no proof yet that she was not," she said Tuesday.
On Thursday, after acknowledging flaws in its system, the Europe Regional Medical Command pledged to review how it manages the Hib vaccine shortage and tracks baby booster shots. The command contends that Brianna was not injected with a recalled vaccine, and that a record-keeping error was to blame.
"Steps are being made to remind people to use due diligence, and (provide) refresher training in the handling of this kind of information," said Dr. (Col.) Robert Smith, the command’s pediatric consultant and deputy commander for clinical services for the Heidelberg Medical Activity, under which Stuttgart falls.
Terry said she’ll believe it when she sees it.
"How much is going to change, if something like this was already reported in April?" Terry said, referring to an April 27 story in Stars and Stripes that reported a Hib vaccine shortage in Lakenheath, England.
"Because of what happened to me, I have become a more vigilant parent," she said.
In December, the drug manufacturer Merck recalled about 1 million doses of the vaccine for Haemophilus influenzae type B bacteria, also known as Hib, causing a nationwide shortage. The vaccine is designed to prevent meningitis, pneumonia, severe throat infections and other diseases caused by the bacteria.
Infants are normally given three or four doses of the vaccines, depending on the brand, at 2, 4 and 6 months, then again at 12 to 15 months.
By the time the precautionary recall was issued in December — Merck said it could not guarantee the vaccines’ sterility — thousands of infants had already been injected in the United States and Europe, but none had suffered any effects. One of the recalled lots — Merck’s Comvax vaccine, lot 0376U — matched that listed on Brianna’s record.
"There was never an issue with those recalled vaccines," Smith said. "They were always found to be sterile."
Clinics in Europe are prioritizing their remaining Hib vaccine, Smith said, with 2- and 4-month-old infants receiving higher priority for shots than older babies. Army clinics are supposed to coordinate with one another to share the supply.
"We are OK to meet the needs of two- and four-month (Hib shots)," Smith said. "It is our job to make sure it is equally distributed. We have a mechanism in place to deal with that situation."
Janeen Allen of Stuttgart has been waiting since May 30 for a 4-month Hib booster for her 5-month-old son, Jevin.
"I was told they wouldn’t have any more until December," Allen said. "They said that after 12 months (Jevin) would have to have ‘catch-up’ shots."
Holly Hicks, also of Stuttgart, tried to schedule her baby, William, for his 6-month Hib shot and said she was told William "doesn’t really need it."
"It seems like something is being covered up and people aren’t being notified," Hicks said.
Terry, Allen and Hicks — all first-time mothers — are wondering if they should look on the German economy for Hib vaccine.
"These are our children," Allen said. "We don’t know what our options are. We don’t know who to talk to or what to ask.
"I felt they should have given us a little more information instead of just telling us, ‘It is what it is.’"
E-mail Charlie Coon at: email@example.com
Photos by Charlie Coon/Stars and Stripes
Janeen Allen of Stuttgart, Germany, has been told her 5-month-old son, Jevin, is on a waiting list to receive the second of his four Hib vaccinations even though he was scheduled to receive the injection on May 30. Allen said she was told the vaccines would not be available until December.
Above: Rebecca Terry, right, goes over medical records indicating her daughter, Brianna, was vaccinated in March with a vaccine that had been recalled by its manufacturer in December. In the background holding their babies are Holly Hicks, left, and Janeen Allen, who also encountered problems when trying to fulfill their babies’ scheduled vaccinations at the Army Health Clinic in Stuttgart.
Right: Rebecca’s husband, Tech. Sgt. Ryan Terry holding 5-month-old Brianna, said he lost faith in the immunization office at the Stuttgart Clinic after the March vaccination.