Experts say vaccine delay to affect C-U

By Craig Colbrook

The pharmaceutical company that supplies roughly half of the nation’s supply of flu vaccinations said last week that it would delay its vaccination shipments because of safety concerns.

Local health officials are, however, confident they can cope with the delay from health care company Chiron Corporation, but caution that the area will be affected.

Alison Marquiss, a spokeswoman from Chiron, said the delay was because a fraction of the units didn’t meet the company’s safety requirements.

“We found a small number of units that did not pass our sterility tests,” she said. “So we’ve put everything on hold while we do additional tests. We want to make sure that everything is as we want it, and that’s to uphold our total commitment to product safety.”

Marquiss said the company plans to begin shipping again in time for the flu season, but noted that the shipment would be smaller.

“We had previously said we expected to ship 50 million units, but we now expect to ship 46 to 48 million,” she said. “We plan to begin shipping again in early October, in time for the height of immunization.”

While Marquiss said the company didn’t expect further delays, even a delay until October could affect the Champaign-Urbana area. Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of McKinley Health Center, said vaccinations would start soon.

“We usually start our program in September,” Palinkas said. “We won’t be able to do that this year, but we’ll max out our production in October and November.”

Dr. Mary Foley of Provena Covenant Medical Center said that it was important to get vaccinated early.

“Normally, we recommend that people get vaccinated when the first flu cases develop, and, obviously, when everyone’s back at school and in close contact that accelerates the issue,” Foley said. “We can start in November, but that’s only if it’s been a good season and no one’s been sick. I recommend getting immunized in October because it takes two weeks to build up an immunity after the shot.”

Foley said the delay will change how local hospitals and medical centers conduct their vaccination campaigns this fall.

“It’s going to be hard to have those health fairs where people just drive up and get their shots,” she said. “I would even recommend that people schedule appointments with their physicians instead of just walking in to a flu clinic. Schedule your appointment – that gives the hospitals time to get the vaccine for you.”

The Champaign-Urbana area usually has a high turnout for flu vaccines, Foley said.

“This community is really amazing. More people get vaccinated here than even in larger cities,” she said. “I’d say 50 to 75 percent of the community gets vaccinated, and with fears of harsher flus, I think the turnout will be even greater.”

Still, Palinkas said the area could meet the demand.

“We’re still pretty confident that Champaign County and Illinois will receive adequate doses of the vaccine,” he said. “The distribution chain may be set back three or four weeks, but that’ll be fine.”

Palinkas said Aventis Pastuer, the nation’s other major supplier, planned to ship another 50 million.

“Aventis Pastuer have not discovered any problems with their shipment, so all of those units will reach the market shortly,” he said. “The total mass of vaccines that should hit the market will be about 96 million. That’s quite a bit, and less than 90 million were shipped last year.”

Palinkas said barring any other unforeseen events, the nation’s vaccine supply should hold up.

“I don’t think that will make a big impact on the national picture, unless they’re delayed any further,” he said.