Steps Are Needed to Better Prepare for Possible Future Shortages
GAO-01-786T, May 30, 2001
Until the 2001 flu season, the production and distribution of influenza vaccine generally went smoothly. Last year, however, several people reported that they wanted but could not get flu shots. In addition, physicians and public health departments could not provide shots to high-risk patients in their medical offices and clinics because they had not received vaccine they ordered many months in advance, or because they were being asked to pay much higher prices for vaccine in order to get it right away. At the same time, there were reports that providers in other locations, even grocery stores and restaurants, were offering flu shots to everyone--including younger, healthier people who were not at high risk. This testimony discusses the delays in production, distribution, and pricing of the 2000-2001 flu vaccine. GAO found that manufacturing difficulties during the 2000-2001 flu season resulted in an overall delay of about six to eight weeks in shipping vaccine to most customers. This delay created an initial shortage and temporary price spikes. There is no system in place to ensure that high-risk people have priority for receiving flu shots when supply is short. Because vaccine purchases are mainly done in the private sector, federal actions to help mitigate any adverse effects of vaccine delays or shortages need to rely to a great extent on collaboration between the public and private sectors.