20 October 2004

---Can This Happen Here?

For the past three weeks, there has been so much frenzy on the impending flu vaccine shortage in the US as winter approaches.

Last week, elderly and chronically ill people waited in line for hours to get flu shots; some were turned away. One died, after hitting her head when she passed out or fell while waiting. Price gougers demanded $800 for $60 vials of vaccine (shame on them!). States threatened to fine or jail doctors and nurses who gave shots to anyone not in the high-risk groups. Congress, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission began investigations into how the nation has been left, on the brink of flu season, with half the flu vaccine it needs. [New York Times]

Can the same scenario happen here in the Philippines?

No. It has something to do with demand. In the US, as winter approaches, it is almost mandatory that those who are over 65 years old, children 6 to 23 months old, pregnant women, or those with chronic health conditions with weak immune states should get the flu shot. Even if someone got the flu vaccine the year before, a new vaccine shot must be administered because the flu virus mutates fast and susceptibility to new variants is always high.

The impending flu vaccine shortage in the US was caused by the sudden suspension of British officials of Chiron Corporation's license to manufacture flu vaccines. Chiron Corporation supplies almost one-half of all America's demand for flu vaccines. As to the reason why British officials suspended its license, that is still a bit vague as of this time.

In August, the (Chiron) company told the Food and Drug Administration that it had discovered a problem with the sterility of a few lots of vaccine, or 6 million to 8 million doses. The vaccine was contaminated with the bacteria Serratia, which is sometimes found in water and is known to cause urinary tract infections. The company believed it had isolated the problem and taken steps to resolve it, but regulators in England, where Chiron's flu vaccine factory is located, were not satisfied and suspended the company's license. [USAToday]

Finger-pointing and investigations have not yet stopped as most Americans feel that this problem could have been averted. Even the presidential candidates tossed up barbs on the issue. Read here and here.

My opinion here is similar with most Americans: this problem could have been prevented.

US health officials have already observed both dwindles and disruptions in vaccine supplies --- not just the flu vaccine --- for the past 2 to 3 years. They must have planned out an alternative solution for such a crisis.

Can this happen here? No, because most Filipinos here would rather get sick, and if luck proves to be slippery, many would rather die than spend their money in hospitals. No money and no proper knowledge have always been the culprits.

There's just one good side to not getting the flu vaccine, and that's getting immuned naturally. As any doctor will tell you, nothing beats natural immunity. Filipinos who survive the flu infections are tougher than most. Here, getting the flu is not a big deal. It has become a part of life.

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