Child dies after vaccine shortage
An HiB bacteria vaccine shortage may have caused a rise in bacterial infection in children; including a fatal case of meningitis.
A rise in illnesses caused by a bacterial infection among children in Minnesota, including a fatal case of meningitis, may stem from a shortage of vaccine for the HiB bacteria, U.S. health officials have said. The child who died had not received any vaccination because of the parents' personal beliefs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the situation in Minnesota, where five children became gravely ill from HiB, may indicate that the bacteria is threatening more children because many have not received booster doses.

Authorities are particularly concerned about bacterial meningitis caused by HiB (Haemophilus influenzae type B) in children. Meningitis is the inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and can be caused by viral or bacterial infections.

Five children became ill last year with meningitis, pneumonia and other HiB-caused diseases in Minnesota, and a 7-year-old child died of meningitis, the CDC said. It was the highest number of HiB illnesses in the state since 1992. In 2006, there was only one case.

"We believe that exposure to the HiB bacteria has increased in Minnesota, and children - mainly those who are unvaccinated - are at higher risk that they used to be," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases, said in a telephone interview.

Merck & Co Inc (MRK.N) in 2007 recalled its HiB vaccines because production equipment may not have been properly sterilised. Merck initially said the PedvaxHIB and COMVAX vaccines would return to the U.S. market late this year, but in October said they would not do so until mid-2009.

HiB vaccine made by Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi-Aventis (SASY.PA), remains available. But because of the absence of the Merck vaccines, the CDC has asked doctors to postpone the routine HiB vaccine booster doses typically given at age 12- to 15 months until the vaccine supply improves.

Because of the Sanofi supply, the CDC said there is enough vaccine to give children the primary vaccine series - doses at 2, 4 and 6 months of age - but not the booster doses.

"We hope that this is limited to Minnesota. We want to get the word out about what's going on in Minnesota because it may be happening elsewhere and it hasn't been reported," said Schuchat, who urged doctors to tell health authorities about any HiB cases they come across.

The CDC said Minnesota tracks illnesses more closely than many other states.

Before the introduction of the vaccine in the early 1990s, about 20 000 U.S. children would come down with illnesses caused by HiB bacteria a year. Vaccination has cut that by 99%, officials said.

Would you vaccinate your child or not?  Why?

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