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Vendors overcharging for flu vaccine
Survey: Some distributors offer U.S. hospitals flu vaccine at up to 10 times the original price.
October 13, 2004: 7:15 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - U.S. hospitals have been actively solicited by pharmaceutical distributors offering the flu vaccine at vastly inflated prices, since the supply has been cut in half due to Chiron Corp.'s plant contamination problems, a survey said Wednesday.

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CNNfn's Fred Katayama reports on widespread price gouging due to a shortage of flu vaccine.

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The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) said more than 55 percent of respondents to a recent survey reported having been contacted by vaccine vendors offering to sell flu vaccine at higher-than-normal prices.

Of these, more than 80 percent said they have been offered the vaccine at four times the former market price, and nearly 20 percent have been offered the vaccine at more than 10 times the former $8-a-dose price, or $80 a dose.

The ASHP said it surveyed 2,561 hospital pharmacy directors and reported that, as of Tuesday morning, 677 had responded.

The ASHP report also revealed that more than 75 percent of hospitals surveyed said they will not have enough flu vaccine available to meet standards of the Centers for Disease Control.

Eighty-four percent of respondents reported they have no plans to purchase additional vaccine on the secondary market at these inflated prices.

The professional association for hospital pharmacists said it began conducting the survey on Friday, after receiving complaints from member hospitals about price-gouging.

Limited supply

The U.S. supply of flu vaccine was cut in half this year after Britain's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency suspended Chiron's license to ship influenza vaccine from its plant in Liverpool, saying it had found systemic problems that led to some bacterial contamination.

Chiron (Research) had contracted to deliver to the United States 46 million to 48 million doses, nearly half of the country's projected need. The remaining half, which is available in the U.S. this year, is mostly produced by Aventis Pasteur, part of French drug giant Sanofi-Aventis Group, according to ASHP.

The basic laws of capitalism and supply and demand do not apply to vendor prices this year, Kasey Thompson, director of patient safety at the ASHP, told CNN.

"This is a public health crisis," he said. "The bottom line is people are going to die, if they don't get this vaccine. It's the most vulnerable -- the elderly, the sickest of the sick and children -- who need this vaccine. It (price-gouging) is just a despicable practice."

Hospital pharmacists are anguished about being forced to decide who amongst the most vulnerable patients will get it, he said. "It's sickening."

The price-gouging is an "immoral thing," Dr. Julie Gerberding, director at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), told CNNfn's Fred Katayama. "Shame on the people who are price-gouging," she added.

But Gerberding said it's a state rather than a national issue, with the definition and extent of price-gouging varying from state to state. Some local government officials have taken actions on their own.

The Attorney General of Kansas has filed a lawsuit against Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Meds-Stat, saying the wholesaler was selling vaccine for more than 10 times the normal price.

Meds-Stat initially charged $85 for 10 doses before the shortage. A week later, it is charging $900 for 10 doses, according to CNNfn. The company said in a statement it is aware of the lawsuit but cannot comment on the case or allegations at this time.

Maxim Health Systems, which runs flu-shot clinics at supermarkets and drugstores around the country, posted an announcement on its Web site that it would cancel all clinics planned after Oct. 16 "until further notice."

But, the company said, people deemed high-risk by CDC criteria could still use their Web site -- www.findaflushot.com -- to find clinics operating until then.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has also launched an informal inquiry on Wednesday into how Chiron handled the disclosure of its manufacturing woes. Meanwhile, Congress has started investigating whether the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) overlooked the problems.

Chiron wasn't immediately avaible for comment.

The flu regularly claims some 36,000 lives and hospitalizes about 200,000 a year in the United States.  Top of page




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