Vaccine Shortage Connected to HIB Illness OutbreaksJan 26, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
One infant has died and four other children have fallen ill from a disease that had been all but eradicated, CNN has reported; the baby was just seven months old. Hib—Haemophilus influenzae type b—is the pathogen responsible for the deaths and illnesses, which have all occurred in Minnesota, CNN added.
The baby and two other children did not receive any vaccinations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said CNN. FiercePharma reported that the other two children had not completed the immunization series. "The situation is of concern," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease. "It could be happening elsewhere and, of course, it's tragic that one of the children actually died from a preventable disease," quoted CNN.
Hib tends to strike infants and children under five years of age; the Hib vaccination is administered to prevent prevents pneumonia; epiglottitis, which is a type of serious throat infection; and meningitis, an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord, explained CNN. The CDC says that one in 20 children infected with Hib dies, with survivors running the risk of deafness and anywhere between 10 and 30 percent suffering permanent brain damage, added CNN. The disease is serious, often deadly and experts are warning parents to ensure their children are appropriatedly vaccinated.
"Parents may not realize the importance of this vaccine," Schuchat told CNN. "The disease is still around” … and people "think it's gone because it has not been seen for a while. Clearly, the bacteria is in the community … and babies that (sic) haven't gotten their vaccines are at risk," she added. Prior to the routine use of vaccines to prevent Hib, approximately 20,000 cases were seen annually; the incidence dropped by 99 percent after vaccinations were more widely administered in the early 1990s, said CNN.
Now, a shortage of the vaccines is worrying experts and health officials. Merck, Inc. recalled over one million doses in 2007, said CNN, the result of contaminated equipment, reported FiercePharma. Merck and a division of Sanofi Aventis are the only suppliers of the Hib vaccine, so when the Merck recall occurred, a shortage began, reported CNN. Generally, Hib is administered in a series of injections when a child is two, four, and six months old with a booster injection when the child is somewhere between one year and 15 months old, explained CNN. Because of the shortage, the CDC deemed the first series a priority, suggesting the booster be delayed—until supplies become available—in older children with strong immune systems. Supplies are expected to normalize by this summer, said CNN.
FiercePharma reported that health officials in Minnesota believe there may be a link between decreases vaccine supplies. A CDC official told the Wall Street Journal that the agency is worried the shortage could be causing a so-called "herd immunity," in which unvaccinated children are protected from disease when many others in the community have been vaccinated. With the shortage, it is possible that herd immunity is not possible, causing fears of the trend appearing nationwide.