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DHS news release

October 8,2004

Contact:Nadine Jelsing (503) 945-5950
Program contact:
Mel Kohn, M.D., State Epidemiologist (503) 731-4023

State invokes emergency statute to ration scarce influenza vaccine

The state Friday invoked a state law that permits the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) to direct who may receive vaccines during a shortage.

Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist at DHS, said it was necessary to invoke terms of ORS 433.040 to make sure providers do not give immunizations to people at low risk of complications from influenza, contrary to guidelines issued by both DHS and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This is the smallest supply of flu vaccine we've had in at least 10 years," Kohn said. "Although in the past we've had to ask people to delay vaccinations, this will be the first time we've ever asked people to forego vaccinations completely.

"We're trying to ensure that vaccine is distributed as equitably as possible across the state," he said.

The CDC identified eight groups at high risk of flu complications and who therefore should receive priority for vaccination:

  • Children ages 6-23 months;

  • Adults ages 65 and older;

  • Anyone ages 2 to 64 with underlying chronic medical conditions;

  • Women who will be pregnant during influenza season;

  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;

  • Children ages 6 months to 18 years on chronic aspirin therapy;

  • Health-care workers who deliver direct patient care; and

  • Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children under 6 months.
"With a few exceptions, people between 2 and 64 will not be immunized this year," Kohn said.

DHS made its decision after conversations Wednesday and Thursday with representatives of physicians, pharmacists, hospitals, nurses, state professional boards, county health departments and others. All known Oregon providers of flu vaccine will be contacted about the state's action, under which violators will be subject to civil penalties of $500 for a second infraction.

The nation's anticipated supply of flu vaccine was cut in half this week after United Kingdom regulatory officials suspended the license of the California-based Chiron Corporation, which manufactures flu vaccine at its Liverpool location. Influenza is a severe respiratory illness that causes more than 500 Oregon deaths annually. Last year's first Oregon flu case was reported on Oct. 30, or about a month earlier than normal.

Kohn said DHS will receive periodic mandatory reports from county health departments about the amount and locations of available vaccine, which would both assist voluntary redistribution of vaccine and help high-risk Oregonians locate available vaccine.

Kohn said medical professionals licensed by state boards could also be subject to sanctions from those boards for violations.

The 2001 Oregon Legislature approved the state law that permits the state public health officer to determine there is a vaccine shortage and to authorize the department to define high-risk groups.