Vaccine shortage not affecting Europe supply
January 28, 2009
Despite both an infant vaccine shortage and new reported cases of Hib bacteria infection stateside, military medical officials in Europe said this week that they continue to have adequate supplies of the vaccine to immunize the community’s babies against potentially fatal illness.
No infections from Hib, or Haemophilus influenza type B, have been reported in European 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 national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising providers to withhold an Hib booster shot at the one-year mark to ensure that all babies get Hib inoculations at the 2-, 4- and 6-month stages after the December 2007 recall.
The Star Tribune newspaper reported last week that five Minnesota children had Hib infections in 2008, and one of them died, the highest number of Hib infections there in nearly 20 years.
The Minnesota cases underscore the importance of every baby getting the 2-, 4- and 6-month shots, according to the CDC.
"This is a terrible reminder to us that we can’t let our guard down," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a statement. "Bacteria and viruses are still out there, and if there is an opportunity, serious disease can come back."
Military medical officials in Europe reiterated this week that they were following the CDC guidelines and only administering the first three Hib shots.
While the vaccine shortage could be contributing to the Minnesota Hib cases, the children involved were either unimmunized or partially immunized, according to Dr. Joseph Bocchini, an American Academy of Pediatrics member and chairman of pediatrics at Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center.
There is concern among pediatricians that the longer children go without that booster dose at the one-year mark, the more susceptible they might become to Hib or carry the bacteria and potentially pass it on to others, even if it doesn’t make them sick, Bocchini said.
While vaccine shortages do occur from time to time, Bocchini said the Hib vaccine shortage at this point is "not a great concern."
"The important message is that to minimize any potential risk for their children, the key thing is to keep the child up to date with immunizations as much as possible," he said.