Childhood Vaccines:

Challenges in Preventing Future Shortages

GAO-02-1105T: Published: Sep 17, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 2002.

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Janet Heinrich
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Vaccine shortages began to appear in November 2000, when supplies of the tetanus and diptheria booster fell short. By October 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported shortages of five vaccines that protect against eight childhood diseases. In addition to diptheria and tetanus vaccines, vaccines to protect against pertussis, invasive pneumococcal disease, measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella were in short supply. In July 2002, updated CDC data indicated supplies were returning to normal for most vaccines. However, the shortage of vaccine to protect against invasive pneumococcal disease was expected to continue through at least late 2002. Shortages have prompted federal authorities to recommend deferring some vaccinations and have caused most states to reduce or suspend immunization requirements for school and day care programs so that children who have not received all mandatory immunizations can enroll. States are concerned that failure to be vaccinated at a later date may reduce the share of the population protected and increase the potential for disease to spread; however, data are not currently available to measure these effects. Many factors, including production problems and unanticipated demand for new vaccines, contributed to recent shortages. Although problems leading to the shortages have largely been resolved, the potential exists for shortages to recur. Federal agencies and advisory committees are exploring ways to help stabilize the nation's vaccine supply, but few long-term solutions have emerged. Although CDC is considering expanding vaccine stockpiles to provide a cushion in the event of a supply disruption, limited supply and manufacturing capacity will restrict CDC's ability to build them.

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