Reliance on the Chiron Corp. for flu vaccine has left at least four Central Arkansas hospitals in the cold and their personnel looking elsewhere for their vaccinations.
If that weren’t bad enough, some doctors are complaining they’re being asked to pay as much as $900 for a vial of vaccine, which contains 10 doses.
St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, Southwest Regional Hospital, Rebsamen Medical Center in Jacksonville and the Heart Hospital contracted with Chiron, one of only two flu vaccine manufacturers that supply the United States. Chiron’s entire vaccine production was contaminated, leaving the U.S. short by 50 million doses.
Aventis Pasteur, a French manufacturer, produced 52 million doses, and hospitals that contracted with it received about half the amounts requested. The state Health Department, which will begin giving shots Wednesday, Nov. 3, received 107,500 doses of the 250,000 it ordered. It will give shots in all 75 counties.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences gave about 200 shots to patients at its Center on Aging earlier this month, but stopped so to give priority to its employees who have direct contact with patients. UAMS received 7,000 doses of the 11,000 it ordered and was to have begun vaccinating employees Oct. 26.
Federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines give priority to such hospital workers, as well as the elderly, persons with chronic disease, pregnant women, nursing home residents and children on aspirin therapy.
Arkansas Children’s Hospital, which got half the 5,000 doses it ordered from Aventis, is vaccinating its established patients in high-risk categories.
Margaret Preston, spokesperson for St. Vincent, said the hospital, which received 2,200 doses last year, is recommending that its priority personnel go to their private physicians for shots. Heart Hospital Vice President Lee Frazier said that hospital, which got about 350 doses last year, hopes its employees will be able to be vaccinated at state health units. Rebsamen is also looking for about 350 doses.
Dr. Charles Smith, executive associate dean for clinical affairs at UAMS, said a lack of vaccine for health care workers is “a concern.”
“I think if we didn’t have any ability to vaccinate our employees, we would advise them not to come to work if they had symptoms developing,” he said.
How bad is this year’s flu season going to be? “It’s a crap shoot,” he said, since the influenza virus undergoes genetic change from year to year. Some strains are more virulent than others; a virus believed to have been spread by chickens has killed 12 of Thailand’s 17 flu patients so far this year.
Closer to home, Arkansas has had no reported cases of the flu, but sporadic outbreaks are occurring in Texas. About 20,000 Americans die of influenza each year, most of them people over 65.
Matt DeCample of the state attorney general’s office said a complaint filed at his office charged that a company that sold a vial of vaccine (which contains 10 doses) last year for $85 was offering it this year for $900, though no one seems to be buying it at that price. DeCample said he believes the company is Meds-Stat of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which is being sued by the state of Kansas for price gouging. Arkansas’s price-gouging law does not apply except in a declared state of emergency.