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Flu Vaccine

The article titled “Flu Vaccine” by Mary Feeney addresses shortages of flu vaccines supplies in the US especially in the period before 2004/5 when acute deficit occurred. The author begins her article by highlighting the burden of influenza on American society. According to her, the disease is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of hospitalization every year. The flu vaccine is its primary prevention method. Although this vaccine has been made available in different settings such as hospitals, working places, clinics, and a host of other convenient locations, Americans have witnessed its shortages on several occasions especially in the seasons prior to 2005. There are a specific set of circumstances that were responsible for this deficit. One of the biggest contributors to the decline is the sudden fall in the number of companies involved in producing the vaccine in the United States, which has been due to the volatility of the market, its high risk and the high cost of production in addition to low-profit margins that characterized the industry. Three decades prior to 2003, there were more than 25 companies involved in vaccine production. This number fell to only five by the year 2003. In 2004, only Aventis and Chiron produced all of the vaccines consumed in the US. The dependence of the entire country on these two manufacturers became alarmingly clear following the report that more than half of the100 million doses that the US expected to be delivered had been contaminated.

Other factors that contributed to the severe shortage of flu vaccine in the period from 2004/2005 included poor communication between Aventis and Chiron and the Food and Drug Administration. These two companies were responsible for meeting the entire US demand for flu vaccine. In particular, the FDA allowed Chiron to independently attempt resolving safety and quality issues that had been identified as early as 2003 during an inspection. The agency failed to visit the company’s plant located in Liverpool. To make matters worse, the FDA limited communication between it and the manufacturer to letters, emails, and phones during that crucial period. Finally, there was no strategy put in place to ensure that the limited available vaccine reached the high-risk patients. The combined effects of these factors were responsible for the flu crisis of 2004/5.

Given the cyclic nature of flu seasons, the federal government sought to address the problems that contributed to the 2004/5 flu crisis. Consequently, the Flu Action Task Force was formed and given the responsibility of managing the vaccine supply, preventing price gouging, and generally coordinating all national efforts. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) formed an ethics panel to oversee the distribution of the available vaccines. Federal agencies started to distribute the remaining flu doses to patients in high-risk areas. Additionally, more than 300, 000 doses of the vaccine that were originally meant for the military personnel and federal employees were diverted to civilian populations that were deemed to be at a higher risk of contracting influenza. On their part, state officials sought alternative sources to procure the vaccine for their people. Similar efforts were put in place by the US government which began to negotiate for the purchase of flu doses from manufacturers in Germany and Canada. In the end, the President declared that more than one million flu vaccinations produced in Germany would be imported into the US. In addition to being more expensive than locally-produced vaccines, all recipients had to sign a consent form since the Food and Drug Agency had not licensed vaccines made in Germany for use in the United States.

The federal government displayed a rapid response to the flu crisis through effective redirection of the available vaccines to populations at risk, the formation of Flu Action Task Force, and the establishment of an ethics panel by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).  On the other hand, the government’s major weakness was its failure to fight price gouging. Moreover, it lacked the capacity to ensure that the available vaccines were equally distributed among the states. The availability and easy access of foreign-produced vaccines, however, became a major opportunity that helped the government control the crisis more effectively. Based on the information presented in the article, it is evident that the flu vaccine market is both unstable and unpredictable. One major source of the problem is the failure by the FDA to sufficiently monitor the companies it relies on to supply the vaccine. One way to possibly address this situation is through the federal government coming up with long-term plans to protect vaccine producers by guarantee flu vaccine purchases. Moreover, both the state and federal government should put in place relevant emergency plan to address cases of flu vaccine shortage in future.