Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Tetanus vaccine available here in limited amounts

National shortage of treatment continues

By Allen Howard
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A nationwide shortage of adult tetanus vaccine has slowed the supply to hospitals, pharmacies and health centers in Greater Cincinnati.

        No one here who needs the shot is being denied, health officials said Tuesday.

        The Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati - Christ, University, St. Luke, Jewish and Fort Hamilton hospitals - has changed its treatment policies because of the shortage.

        “Since the manufacturer has been rationing the vaccine for the last three months, we are rationing it to treat our most critically ill and high-risk patients,” said Shelley Dusing, drug policy development specialist for the alliance.

        “For patients who have mild infections, we put them in a call-back program to administer the vaccine later,” she said.

        Tetanus is an acute, sometimes fatal disease caused by a bacteria that usually enters the body through a wound.

        So far the tetanus crisis concerns only adult versions of tetanus vaccine, not children's vaccine. But Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts are watching closely to see if the shortage spreads — and are worrying about adult illnesses this spring, when vaccine demand rises along with a seasonal jump in injuries.

        Supplies already were tight because of production difficulties when Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories last month stunned hospitals by suddenly ceasing to make the vaccine altogether, calling it “a business decision.”

        Aventis Pasteur of Swiftwater, Pa., the only other manufacturer, has been working around the clock to provide the millions of doses required annually.

        Sherri Michelstein, a spokeswoman for the company, said all health care providers will get the vaccine, but quantities are limited.

        Hospitals and distributors have been limited to 100 doses a week; health centers, public and private pharmacies have been limited to 50 doses a week, she said.

        St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Northern Kentucky has been able to get an adequate supply of diphtheria tetanus vaccine, which can be substituted for plain tetanus vaccine, said Karla Webb, center spokeswoman.

        The West End Health Center, which treats mostly low-income families, had to alter its requisition procedure for the vaccine.

        “We were told by our distributor to order directly from the manufacturer,” said Leo Okum, pharmacy director at the center. “We have felt the shortage, but we have not had to deny anyone the vaccine. I think the shortage is just a temporary thing.”

        Dr. Bernard Lenchitz of Lincoln Heights Health Center said the shortage is not affecting patients.

        “The supply is reduced, but we are dealing with a population that is pretty well immunized,” he said.

        The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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