shortage of shots

The dawning of a nationwide panic concerning a shortage of influenza vaccinations has touched down upon UM, as students are now being told that there are not enough shots to go around.

Dr. Howard Anapol, director of the Health Center, said that last year there were enough vaccinations to meet demand, and approximately 1,800 flu shots were given at UM. This year, however, with the vaccine shortage, UM’s strategy is to adhere to the Center for Disease Control [CDC] recommendations to redirect vaccinations to high priority candidates.

“Everyone who is at high risk will get one but it’s quite likely that any leftover vaccinations will be redirected to other UM facilities to reach others who meet high-risk requirements, such as the elderly,” Anapol said. “The average student will likely not be able to get one. In the event that there’s some left over they may be able to get it.”

The extreme shortages are due in part to a poorly planned national vaccination system and in part because of manufacturing problems at Chiron Corp., a major vaccine distributor based in California. These problems will prevent some 47 million doses of vaccine from reaching the U.S. in time for flu season. Another factor cited in the crisis is that the U.S. is dependent solely on two major vaccine manufacturers, Chiron Corp. and Aventis Pasteur, a company based in France.

Due to the short supply of vaccine nationwide, the annual FLU SHOT program for influenza immunization at the UM School of Medicine’s Benefits Fair cannot occur this year.

“The provider that supplies the Benefits Fair with the flu vaccine has not received any vaccine this year,” said Christina Elgarresta, a human resources spokesperson at the School of Medicine. “The Center for Disease Control and Prevention subsequently called on healthy people to forgo flu shots this fall so that the existing supply of vaccine can go to people most at risk for complications.”

The problem with Chiron Corp. began about two months ago, when it was discovered that a small amount of the vaccine at a Liverpool factory had been contaminated. Until two weeks ago, U.S. public health officials were concrete in their assurance that the rest of the vaccines were usable and that shortages wouldn’t occur.

However, this past Tuesday, health officials in Britain suspended Chiron Corp.’s license for a period of three months – in other words, no more vaccination medicine will be sent to the U.S. in time for flu season. Furthermore, investigators will not release the million or so doses previously sent from Chiron until more information is uncovered relating to the contamination.

Posted on the UM Health Center’s website is a notice informing students that the CDC is “currently limiting immunization to the priority groups listed [infants, the elderly, chronically ill, pregnant women, and healthcare workers] and will be postponing our off- site outreach programs. Once we have had an opportunity to offer immunization to our high risk students, we may be able to offer any remaining vaccine to others requesting immunization.”

Some are worried that the vaccine shortage translates to more UM students at risk for influenza this winter. Anapol doesn’t feel that this should be a problem.

“I don’t think there will be any dramatic differences,” Anapol said. “We may see a slight increase in respiratory infections but it’s nothing for people to worry about, especially young, healthy people. However, it depends on the severity of this year’s flu season.”

Teressa Dalpe can be contacted at