NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Vaccine Shortage

June 4, 2002

Across the country, a shortage of American-made vaccines has been disrupting the normal schedule of inoculations for 8 of the 11 preventable childhood diseases since last year. No outbreaks have been attributable to the inconsistent supplies, and enough vaccine has been available for the crucial first doses. But doctors say the margin of safety is thin.

Some experts blame a system of complex regulations that needs a significant overhaul. Also, a shrinking number of companies are making vaccines, as manufacturers have left the field due to the high cost of tort liability and other legal and financial issues.

  • Vaccines are tricky to make and can take almost a year to get from the lab to the doctor's office.
  • Unlike synthetic drugs, they are grown from live organisms -- bacteria and viruses -- and the processes involved are unpredictable.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) has issued a new schedule for inoculations that defers shots to stretch limited supplies.

The General Accounting Office is studying the causes of the shortages and how to prevent such events in the future. Experts convened by the CDCP and the National Vaccine Advisory Committee are also preparing recommendations.

Source: Leslie Berger, "Experts Searching for Ways to Fill the Vaccine Gap," New York Times, June 4, 2002.


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