Flu vaccine production falters, injects concerns


Alice Yu

Throughout the years, flu vaccinations have been funded by a variety of sources. This year, however, the issue was the production, not the funding, of the vaccines. 
Before the Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) of Boone County’s Health Department began scheduling dates for their annual school-located influenza vaccination (SLIV) clinics, they knew there was going to be a delay in the delivery of FluMist from MedImmune, the sole manufacturer of a nasal spray flu vaccine.
As if one delay weren’t enough, MedImmune announced another delay mid-October, further reducing the amount of FluMist delivered.
A slow-growing strain used to produce this year’s seasonal flu vaccine was the culprit behind the first delay at MedImmune. The blame for the second delay can be directed to certain lots of FluMist that were too potent.
“The FDA has to release the lots. They do a lot of testing to determine if things are within the correct parameters, and they had some lots that were too potent,” Trina Teacutter, public health nursing supervisor for the Health Department, said. “That even further reduced the amount of vaccine we were going to get, so we kind of had a double whammy this year with the flu mist.”
Last flu season, there was a lack of the Inactivated Influenza Vaccine (IIV), which is administered through injection. Because PHHS orders IIVs from two manufacturers, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Sanofi was the company with the IIV shortage, the clinics still had IIVs from GSK to rely on. While the injectable flu vaccine supply isn’t experiencing any problems this year, the FluMist supply is certainly not at the levels it is expected to be at, compared to previous years, said Teacutter. Considering MedImmune is the only manufacturer of nasal spray vaccines, PHHS has no other company to turn to.
For last year’s flu season, the Health Department provided around 6,000 to 7,000 doses of the FluMist, said Teacutter, but this year, they’ve received less than 2,000 doses from MedImmune.
SLIV clinics usually begin from late-September to early-October and are finished by the first or second week of November. But with two delays in the supply of FluMist, the last clinic is set to take place at Rock Bridge Elementary on Dec. 16. RBHS’ clinic is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 15, 8:30 to 10:30 in the PAC lobby.
“Even though it’s late in the season, I still think that people should get the vaccine,” senior Jack Gabel said. “There are people who are immune to the vaccines, so it’s a social responsibility for people who can get vaccines to get them.”
PHHS also offers free vaccines for students who can’t attend a SLIV clinic, as well as children who have Medicaid, are uninsured or underinsured through their Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. Students with a completed ‘2015 INfluenza “Flu” Vaccine School-Based Clinic Consent Form’, a form all CPS students received with their ‘Schedule-Pickup’ packet, also receive free vaccines at PHHS.
For junior Paige Rapisarda, opting out of the SLIV clinic and instead getting her vaccine at the Health Department is a habit she plans to maintain.
“I’ve always taken it at the Health Department ever since I’ve lived here,” Rapisarda said. “My mom works at a school so it’s not like I have something against taking it at school, it’s just something I’ve always done. I’m just more comfortable taking it at the Health Department.”
But with a nationwide shortage of the FluMist, every provider, not just SLIV clinics and the Health Department, is affected.
“I know a lot of parents are concerned about us vaccinating some schools in December and I just remind them again that the peaks of the flu seasons typically happen in January and February, so December is still a good time to get vaccinated,” Teacutter said. “We’re working really hard to get as many vaccinated as we can before you guys go on break.”
art by Joy Park