The flu …Late this

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The flu …<$NoAd$>

Late this summer, at the first sign of new problems at Chiron Corp.’s long-troubled plant, the British began searching for other suppliers of flu vaccine.

“When Chiron informed us of the potential problems at the end of August, we made contingency agreements,” said Alison Langley, a spokeswoman for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, or MHRA, the British equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Armed with essentially the same information, however, U.S. officials relied on Chiron’s early assurances that only a small portion of the flu vaccine from its Liverpool plant was contaminated.

It was not until Oct. 5, when the British pulled Chiron’s license, that they knew that half the U.S. flu vaccine supply had just disappeared, producing the lines and shortages that the country is now enduring.

The article goes on to point out that even if US officials had reacted as proactively as the Brits, we still would have had a more difficult time grappling with the problem.

There are a) more Americans than Brits, b) the British were relying on this one plant for a smaller percentage of their flu vaccine needs, and c) a smaller percentage of the British population gets a regular flu shot. For all those reasons combined, the US shortfall is about 45 million doses while the Brits’ is probably a bit under 2 million.

Still, it seems clear that not only were we depending on too few suppliers, but that someone was asleep at the switch when the warning lights started blinking.

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