We're about to use the words "impending vaccine shortage," but not about flu shots. Today, Merck recalled more than a million doses of Hib vaccine, shots given to kids under five to prevent hepatitis, pneumonia, and other infections. The recall stems from contamination problems at a plant in Pennsylvania. Though sample vials tested clean before shipment, other vials might have been tainted.
Aside from the black eye a recall always causes, the chief worry is, yes, a shortage. Merck will have to shut down manufacturing for nine months as it retools its processes to prevent future contamination. Before relaunch, the FDA will have to give its blessing. And Merck produces about half the annual U.S. supply of 14 million doses. Sanofi Pasteur makes the other half, and that company isn't sure it can ramp up production quickly enough to make up the shortfall.
Public health officials may prioritize dosing to American Indian and Alaskan Native children, who are at greater risk of Hib-related illnesses. What about kids who may have been dosed with tainted vaccine? Health officials expect it may cause skin irritation around the site of the shot, but no more, though kids with weakened immune systems may have more serious reactions.
- check out release from Merck
- read this story from NPR