Flu vaccine shortage prompts American imports

By Madeleine Dowling

FLU SEASON has just begun but hospital admissions are rising and the vaccine supply has already run dry.

Some companies have been forced to import vaccines from the US.

While the peak of the dreaded flu season is not set to hit until August, figures from Queensland Health show 957 people have been admitted to public hospitals across the state so far.

This means pharmaceutical companies will have to import vaccines for the remainder of  the flu season due to the unprecedented demand.

Terry White Chemmart pharmacist Amr Kehila said since the initial vaccine supply has been exhausted, companies have been pushed to source the vaccine in “only 10 to 15 thousand units” each from overseas.

“So, an organisation of say 500 pharmacies recently vaccinated around 250,000  flu injections, whereas last year they did somewhere in the vicinity of 120 to 130 [thousand]” Mr Kehila said.

Mr Kehila said the strains covered this year were familiar to chemists.

“It’s the exact same thing that they’ve bought in the first time, but they have to reapply to have it bought in,” Mr Kehila said.

“It has to sit at the TGA and then get it cleared and come to the wholesales and out to the community pharmacies and medical practices again.”

The lengthy process of importing the vaccine may present challenges, according to University of Queensland medicine student Ned Freeman.

“If the vaccines are not effective due to errors in shipping, people will deliberately not receive the vaccine in future years,” Mr Freeman said.

“This could have serious consequences for at-risk groups who are not able to beat the flu virus due to insufficient immune capacity.”

According to Mr Freeman, any contaminant in the vaccines causing illness would lead to “widespread repercussions” in the form of decreased immunisation rates for all preventable diseases.

Queensland Health recommends those with the flu should contain coughs and sneezes, stay home from work when they are sick and seek medical help if they are concerned.

Mr Kehlia said nothing replaced vaccination.

“Just commonsense stuff like respecting personal space when sick so you don’t get translation, warm environments like office places and whatnot where people tend to make it worse,” Mr Kehlia said.

“You can look at vitamins and supplements to try and boost your immunity, but obviously the evidence is not all there to prove that it’s as effective as people think.”

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