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AP Investigates H1N1 Distribution Issues

March 19, 2010

Documents obtained by the Associated Press (AP) and made public on Thursday show that the vaccine meant to protect children and the elderly from the H1N1 virus found their way to some rather unexpected places.

The AP obtained a series of records under the Freedom of Information Act which show that more than 2,000 doses of the vaccine went to the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in October and November. Another 2,000 found their way to NASA personnel at the Johnson Space Center in Houston; 1,000 to the Morgan Stanley offices in Purchase, New York; and 600 to a U.S. Department of Energy facility in Idaho.

H1N1 vaccines were also sent to a Nissan auto plant in Tennessee, the headquarters of the Merck pharmaceutical company, as well as to Boeing, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Federal Reserve Bank over the fall.

“In some cases, financial institutions and other recipients got doses before some county health departments and doctors’ offices,” AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe wrote in his March 18 report.

“Also, even though the federal government spent more than $1.6 billion to manufacture and distribute the vaccine, there is no complete record of where it went,” he added. “That’s a ‘big deal’ — the absence of complete data makes it hard to spot waste and other problems, said James Colgrove, a Columbia University scholar on the history of immunization campaigns.”

It should be pointed out, Stobbe says, that 85-percent of the vaccine doses handed out in the first month and a half went to those who needed it most — specifically, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with serious medical issues — according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates.

“It was a remarkable logistical success,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden told the AP. “As with many things in public health, the things that work really well, nobody notices.”

The H1N1 virus, known more familiarly as the swine flu, has infected 59 million people since April 2009, hospitalizing over 250,00 people and resulting in approximately 12,000 fatalities. Only 11 million vaccines shipped during the first three weeks of its availability, according to Stobbe, but since then a total of more than 85 million individuals received have been vaccinated.

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