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October 07, 2004

CDC Asks MedImmune to Boost FluMist Flu Vaccine Output

In the wake of the closing of Chiron's UK-based flu vaccine production facility, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has asked MedImmune -- makers of the inhalable FluMist vaccine -- to boost its output of flu vaccine for the U.S. flu season.

After disappointing sales last year, Maryland-based MedImmune had cut its FluMist production this year to only one to two million doses. Besides helping MedImmune's bottom line, making more FluMist doses available will help apportion the 54 million doses coming from Aventis Pasteur. Many of those doses can be reserved for infants and the elderly, since the FluMist vaccine is approved for healthy people ages 5 to 49.

A Wall Street Journal article [subscription required] provides some detail regarding the exact cause of Chiron's plant shutdown:
The problem began in August, when Chiron discovered contamination that had occurred in the final stage of the manufacturing process and affected four million doses.

The contamination, suspected to be a bacterium called serratia, halted shipment to the U.S. But British officials cited much broader problems in shutting down the plant, a Chiron official said.

The Journal article also raises the larger issue of vaccine shortages:

The Chiron fiasco is yet another reminder that the market for vaccines is malfunctioning. This is the ninth time since 2000 that the U.S. has experienced a shortage of an important vaccine.

Shortages of vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, chickenpox and measles have occurred since then, and this is the fourth year out of five that the U.S. has had a flu-vaccine shortage.

A blue-ribbon panel of the Institute of Medicine warned last year of calamities such as this one, caused in part by the small and dwindling number of suppliers. The panel recommended better financing mechanisms and limited legal liability to encourage more producers. Nothing has changed, however.

Sara Rosenbaum of George Washington University and an IOM panel member, said, "There is huge demand and no suppliers. There is no market around vaccines."


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