Influenza, or the flu, causes approximately 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States and costs the American economy between $11 and $18 billion each year (General Accounting Office 2001b, page 1). The primary method for preventing influenza is the flu vaccine, which is generally available in a variety of settings including clinics, hospitals, schools, workplaces, and other convenient locations. The vaccine is typically distributed in October and November in anticipation of the winter flu season, which usually begins in late November and peaks in February. For the 2004-05 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that as many as …show more content…
Media frenzy and public outrage followed the announcement that Americans would not receive almost half of the expected 100 million dosages of the flu vaccine. Across the nation long lines formed outside health clinics while others rushed to Canada for the flu shot. As with the 2000-01 vaccine shortage, when demand surpassed supply, reports of price gouging immediately appeared. For example, a pharmacist was reportedly offered 10 doses that usually cost $67 for $700 (Altman 2004). Meanwhile Shore Memorial Hospital in New Jersey was offered 8,000 doses, which had been illegally smuggled into the US, at the price of $60 each (Associated Press 2004a). In a more extreme case, 620 vaccine dosages were stolen from a Colorado pediatrician’s office (Belluck 2004).
In addition to the rising cost of flu shots, distributing available vaccines quickly became a problem. This was no surprise to federal officials or health care workers who have long known about the fragility of the US vaccine market. In 2001, GAO published a report outlining the issues related to vaccine shortages and recommending policies to prevent future problems. The report’s primary concern was that there is “no system to ensure that high-risk people have priority when the supply of vaccine is short” (General Accounting Office 2001b, 3).