April 21, 2024

Flu vaccine rationing raises ethical concerns

Americans eager to get flu shots

Americans are infuriated that a critical shortage of flu vaccine has hit just as they are preparing for the onset of winter. The flu strikes 56 million Americans each year. Public health authorities expect about 200,000 to be hospitalised and 36,000 to die. Routine vaccination against the flu nearly always wards off serious problems. Both presidential candidates have attempted to squeeze the crisis for votes, President Bush by foregoing his annual flu shot, and Senator Kerry by accusing his opponent of incompetence. Experts predicted this scenario long ago, according to Newsweek, after “profit-conscious drug companies… fled the business in droves in recent years, leaving the health system ever more vulnerable to shortages and interruptions in supply.”

Jolted into action by an angry public, the overseer of public health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created a permanent panel of ethicists on vaccine distribution to help manage the shortage.

The problem occurred because one of only two suppliers of the vaccine, a British laboratory owned by the US company Chiron, found that its stocks had been contaminated. The, has asked health care providers to ration stocks of vaccine and to give first priority to the elderly, young children and people with chronic health conditions. But there have been persistent reports that low-risk people have been jumping the queue and obtaining flu shots anyway. Several states have threatened to fine or even jail doctors and nurses who flout the guidelines.