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Flu vaccinations suspended

Katie Perry | Thursday, October 7, 2004

The suspension of a manufacturing license for a major influenza vaccination provider caused both Notre Dame’s University Health Services and Saint Mary’s Health and Wellness Services to announce Wednesday they will be unable provide flu shots for students and staff this flu season. The Chiron Corporation – Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s only source of the influenza vaccines – said Tuesday it would be unable to supply its product this season due to problems in one its chief production facilities, University spokesman Matt Storin said in a statement.According to a statement from the Chiron Corporation, the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency placed a temporary suspension on the company’s license to produce Fluvirin, Chiron’s trademark vaccine for influenza. Consequently, Chiron was unable to manufacture the vaccine for the 2004-05 season. A large dependency on the Chiron Corporation to supply flu vaccines nationwide has led to significant shortages, especially on college campuses. Universities across the country have contacted the Centers for Disease Control in an attempt to purchase flu vaccines from other universities who may have surpluses of the vaccine, University Health Services Director Ann Kleva said.”Everyone is clamoring. We have to be considerate to the whole population of the United States,” Kleva said.At the present time, Health Services has been unable to obtain the vaccine from another source, but the department will continue its efforts, said Kleva.The University will also contact federal and state officials about other sources of the flu vaccine, Storin said. Health Services is currently trying to acquire a supply of “flu-mist,” which is a nasal form of protection against the virus, from the product’s distributor.Health Services is also working with the South Bend Clinic to mitigate the effects of the shortage. At the present time, the clinic has 17,000 doses of the vaccine that will be made available to high-risk persons only, said Kleva. The clinic has defined those eligible as individuals aged two through 64 with chronic illnesses such as lung and heart disease, diabetes and asthma. If and when the University obtains any vaccines from other sources, they will be granted to students on the basis of risk-level. Those students more prone to influenza will receive immunization prior to low-risk students, Kleva said.Kleva also noted the Notre Dame community has a “substantial” population of high-risk individuals. However, although she was concerned about the shortage, Kleva said she believes alternative sources will be able to adequately cover the demand. “I firmly believe that any high-risk student, faculty member or staff member is going to be able to receive a flu vaccine if they desire to have one,” Kleva said.Saint Mary’s Health and Wellness Services will only allow vaccination for those students who meet “priority group status,” and therefore have agreed to share some of its surplus vaccines with the Notre Dame community. Although the College’s supply is “minimal,” it is still a potential mode of alleviation regarding this problem and its corresponding consequences, Kleva said.Preventive measures have already been launched by Health Services. An e-mail was sent to students about precautionary steps they can take to lower the risk of contracting the virus. The most important thing a student can do to minimize the risk of influenza is to avoid a “compromised” immune system, Kleva said. This involves maintaining good health, getting enough sleep and not sharing personal items such as food, eating utensils and cigarettes. Saint Mary’s has also been significantly affected by the shortage. Vaccination distributions scheduled for today and Friday were cancelled, and students can only receive the flu shot on a priority basis, according to the email sent by Cathy DeCleene, director of Health and Wellness Services. Last year Health Services dispensed 2,500 vaccinations within the Notre Dame community, yet 500 people were still treated for flu-like illnesses, Kleva said. Despite rising costs of the vaccination, Health Services had budgeted to account for an increased number of vaccines for this season in response to the significant number of students who fell ill during the 2003-04 academic year.