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Hospitals seeking to boost their supply of flu vaccine amid delays and shortfalls have discovered a sudden surge in prices. Flu vaccine that sold for about $30 per 10-dose vial now may cost as much as three times that, employee health professionals report. The higher prices apply to vaccine sold outside of pre-existing orders.
The American Medical Association (AMA) decried the "price gouging," saying it is "unethical and threatens the health of those who need the vaccination most." The AMA noted that additional doses of vaccine will be available in December and that no long-term shortage is expected.
Delays in production of the flu vaccine emerged earlier this year when growth of the A(H3N2) vaccine component proved more difficult than expected. Two manufacturers also had quality control issues to resolve with the Food and Drug Administration.
At the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aventis Pasteur of Swiftwater, PA, produced an additional 9 million doses of vaccine, which was to be available in mid-December. Hospitals and other customers must fill out an application, which is available on-line, so the manufacturer can determine priorities for filling orders.
The price of the additional flu vaccine is about $30 per 10-dose vial for public sector customers, such as public health departments, and $50 per 10-dose vial for private sector customers.
The higher price stems from the increased cost of producing the additional vaccine, says Len Lavenda, spokesman for Aventis Pasteur. "The economics of producing the vaccine in that time period are a little bit different," he explains. "Securing the materials and vendor items we need to produce that late in the year are a bit different."
However, higher prices that have been reported are linked to distributors and wholesalers. "We think it’s unfortunate that that is happening," says Lavenda. "We do want to make it clear that it’s not on our part. We have not increased our prices, with the exception of this [CDC] contract. That is to pass along some of the increased cost we’re experiencing as a part of extended production."
At Lanier Park Medical Center, Edward I. Galaid, MD, MPH, medical director of Lanier Park Occupational Health, decided to order additional vaccine despite the high price so he could provide timely immunizations for health care workers and initiate the annual community program.
"Even though market pressures have driven up prices and there are opportunists out there, the fact remains that any increased cost would be built into the marketing budget for the hospital," he says. "It’s just the cost of doing the timely thing for our employees and the appropriate thing from a community standpoint."
[Editor’s note: For additional information on the flu vaccine doses, contact Aventis Pasteur at (800) 720-8972 or visit its Web site at www.vaccineshoppe.com. A Fluzone application must be completed. It can be faxed to (888) 889-7129.]