October 27, 2004

Student Care Center reacts to national flu shot shortage

As the leaves turn and coats emerge from the depths of closets, students are reminded that it's that time of year again—time to head to the Student Care Center (SCC) to get a flu shot. With the nationwide flu vaccine shortage, though, this will not be a possibility for most students.

While the SCC currently has available flu vaccinations, the shots will only be given to students in a certain high risk group. The SCC is following the guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC and Prevention specifies "high risk individuals" as infants, seniors, pregnant women, healthcare workers, or people suffering from chronic lung and heart disorders. One hundred million Americans still fall under these stricter guidelines, though historically less than half of those identified as high-risk individuals get vaccinated, CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said at a press briefing on October 12.

But because of heavy media attention the vaccine shortage has received this fall, some speculate that this year's percentage may be much higher.

The shortage occurred after the British government suspended the manufacturing license at the factory in Liverpool where the influenza vaccine, Fluvirin, is produced. The factory's license was suspended on October 5 due to concerns regarding sterility, and it will remain suspended for three months. The Chiron Company, the American biotechnology company that owns the factory, will not be able to provide the 46 million to 48 million vaccines it had planned on selling in the United States this fall.

Federal officials at the CDC had hoped to distribute 100 million doses of the flu vaccine this season, but now they have just 54 million doses that were manufactured by the country's only other major provider, France-based Aventis-Pasteur.

Executives at Chiron beat around the bush as to whether or not the company would be able to sell vaccines to the U.S. for the 2005-2006 flu season. On the day of the factory's license suspension, Chiron president and CEO, Howard Pien, said in a press release that the company is "committed to taking all necessary actions to ensure an adequate vaccine supply for the 2005--2006 influenza season."

But in response to the FDA's announcement last week regarding an inspection of the Liverpool factory, Chiron stated that "no assurances can be given that additional issues with respect to Fluvirin or Chiron's manufacturing generally will not arise in the future."

Dr. Sarah Van Orman, director of the SCC, made suggestions for the imminent flu season. "Every year, but especially this year, it's really important to practice other measures to control the spread of illness," Van Orman said. "Even though it's hard at times, it's very important for people to stay home and away from others when they are sick. Combined with hand-washing, this simple public health measure is critical in controlling influenza."

She noted that the SCC is working with infectious disease and control specialists at the University of Chicago Hospitals to administer shots and treat patients.

Students are displeased with the vaccination situation. "The past three years I have gotten my flu shot through the Student Care Center, and I am disappointed that I will not be able to do the same this year. Living in Max Palevsky, disease spreads like wildfire, and this year should prove particularly interesting," said fourth-year in the College Harish Hemmige. "Interviewing for jobs right now really has me pressed for time, so I won't have time to get to my doctor at home to get a flu shot, either. The entire situation is just frustrating."

Second-year in the College Mark Herzberg is nervous about the vaccination shortage. "It's unfortunate that I can't get a flu shot at the SCC, although I understand that it's not their fault due to the national shortage. Being someone who gets flu shots annually, it's unnerving that I have to wait until Thanksgiving to get one at home," he said. "I'm anxious that I'll be exposed to the flu before I have the chance to be vaccinated."

Van Orman stressed that the SCC's flu shot situation mimics that of the whole country. She noted that the influenza season does not begin for another few weeks and that the SCC will adapt to any fluctuations in these weeks. "As more information becomes available about national supplies, policies and availability may change," she said.