The 2005-06 flu season has barely begun in the Eastern U.S., yet NEXT year’s vaccine supply is already “sold out,” according to its manufacturer. How did this happen (again)?
I’m going to try very hard to stick to the facts here. Doing my own investigative journalism is not what I intended in starting this blog, but I’m so outraged by the flu vaccine fiasco, that I’m left with no choice. So, here’s the story. I apologize for being long-winded, but stay with me, it’s important:
1. The CDC and AAP recommend that all children between 6-24 months receive a flu vaccine. We can certainly debate this for a while, but it’s a fact.
2. Sanofi Pasteur (formerly Aventis Pasteur) makes the only commercially available flu vaccine for children in the US. According their own web site (highlights are mine):
Our Vision is of a world in which no one suffers or dies from a vaccine-preventable disease.
Our Mission is to protect and improve human health worldwide by providing superior, innovative vaccines for the prevention and treatment of disease and by playing an active role in the Immunization Community to maximize vaccination.
3. In a press release dated March, 2005, Sanofi announces that their “new formulation (trade name: Fluzone®, Influenza Virus Vaccine, No Preservative) will be the only injectable influenza vaccine approved by the FDA that does not introduce a preservative at any stage in the manufacturing process.” Great news for anti-thimerosal advocates. In fact, several states have already enacted legislation to ban the use of thimerosal-containing vaccines, and others are in the process of doing so; Congress may also act to ban thimerosal vaccine nationally.
4. Over the past few years, we’ve all heard the promises from Sanofi and from our government that we won’t have to deal with flu vaccine shortages again – yet each year, we do. So, Sanofi announces that this year, they’ll “pre-book” vaccine orders beginning on January 31 (last Tuesday) for the 2006-07 flu season (nearly a year ahead of time) in order to produce enough vaccine (at least that’s what we all thought). After all, more vaccines=more dollars, no? In fact, the preservative-free versions cost more per dose than the thimerosal versions.
5. My office calls (like many others) on January 31 to prebook. Busy signal all day. All day – like a Stones concert. Tried the web (www.vaccineshoppe.com) – can’t get through. Apparently we’re not alone. Call our local Sanofi office rep on Wednesday AM – she says she’ll take our order – but not sure what’ll happen to it. No one calls us back. By Friday, we’ve established that the entire allotment of flu vaccine wass “sold out” – booked – on the 31st – the very first day we were allowed to prebook.
6. Sanofi Press Release, dated 2/1/06:
Swiftwater, PA – February 1, 2006 – Recognizing Sanofi Pasteur Inc. as a reliable supplier of influenza vaccine, immunization providers contacted the company in record numbers yesterday requesting Fluzone®, Influenza Virus Vaccine for the 2006-2007 season. During the first 30 minutes of accepting
prebooking requests, the company received over 40,000 phone calls and more than 200,000 calls came in during the first eight hours. As a result of the unprecedented demand, the company has committed all influenza vaccine doses planned for production for the next season.
There’s a note in the press release that’s misworded – leads you to believe they actually have more PRESERVATIVE-FREE vaccine to book, when in reality, those small supplies were reserved well before the multi-dose regular vaccine. At least according to my sources at Sanofi. One can only hope one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing and that there will indeed be more supply.
How does Sanofi reconcile this fiasco with their vision and mission statements, to “maximize vaccination” in “a world in which no one suffers or dies from a vaccine-preventable disease”? Millions of children (and adults at risk) will be left unprotected against flu this coming winter. Even worse, countless others will receive thimerosal-containing vaccine simply because the company will not make enough preservative-free vaccine to meet demand. Whether or not you believe it is necessary to avoid injecting thimerosal into babies, this “here-we-go-again” feeling has to disturb you. Make your voice heard, and spread the word – to patients, media, Congress, and of course, Sanofi.