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Published: Thursday, 3/4/2004

Drug shortage prompts child vaccine cutback


A shortage of Prevnar - a key childhood vaccine used to prevent meningitis and blood and ear infections - has led federal health officials to tell physicians to stop giving the last two of four doses to conserve dwindling supplies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told physicians three weeks ago to suspend the fourth dose of Prevnar, which is given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and between 12 and 15 months. The latest announcement adds the third dose to the suspension order.

CDC officials said only getting two doses is “not ideal,” but should provide at least partial protection. Children considered at high risk are still urged to get all four doses.

Normal supplies of Prevnar, manufactured only by Wyeth Vaccines, might not become available until the fall. The vaccine didn t become available until 2000. Before it was used, the CDC estimates 700 cases of meningitis, 13,000 blood infections, and 5 million ear infections occurred annually from the bacteria the vaccine shields children against.

Though the shortage is annoying, “from a public health standpoint, I don t know that I d be terribly concerned,” said Dr. Francis Rogalski, a Sylvania pediatrician.

However, he said he is concerned that shortages of various childhood vaccines are getting more common.

“I think all of us are frustrated with the vaccine shortages,” agreed Dr. Christopher Rizzo, a Cleveland pediatrician and president of the Ohio chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The country s physicians dealt with widespread shortages of childhood vaccines from 2000 to mid-2002. Dr. Rizzo said there s little profit in vaccines for manufacturers, a situation he blames largely on insurance companies reluctance to fully fund the cost of vaccines and their delivery.

Another problem is that, like Prevnar, there s too often only one supplier of a vaccine. As a result, problems with that manufacturer can have a rapid impact. Other common childhood vaccines, including those for chicken pox and measles, mumps and rubella, have only one supplier as well.

Dr. Rogalski and Dr. Rizzo predict more shortages will occur in the future unless solutions are developed, including government intervention and subsidies.

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