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Project on Government Oversight

Flu Vaccine Shortage: It's Time to Explain Why It Happened

Related Content: Pandemic Flu Vaccine
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October 22, 2009

As reported in a variety of news outlets yesterday, the shortage of H1N1 flu vaccine has now become obvious. Throughout the country, many of those lining up to be vaccinated are being turned away. 

Why is vaccine in short supply? Explanations are emerging slowly from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was one of three cabinet officers testifying on October 21 before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Sebelius blamed the shortage of vaccine in part on manufacturing delays, which she said have been corrected. 

Sebelius also confirmed that the U.S. is dependent on foreign manufacturers for much of its vaccine and said this country needs to enhance its domestic manufacturing capacity in the future. Several senators asked whether, during the present pandemic, supplies of vaccine we expect from abroad might instead be retained within their home countries. Secretary Sebelius responded that the U.S. is “at the front of the line” with orders it had placed with foreign manufacturers. However, she did not comment on the possibility, raised by committee chairman Joseph Lieberman, that the government of a foreign country might require its vaccine manufacturers to fill its own needs first. 

America’s dependence on foreign sources of vaccine is just one of many shortcomings that seriously detract from the strengths of the U.S. government’s program for producing vaccine in a pandemic. POGO – in letters to the Secretary of HHS, articles, and other public documents for more than 18 months – has urged a comprehensive disclosure of weaknesses in the vaccine program. Our documents identified specific weaknesses that could lead to a shortage of vaccine in a pandemic. 

On September 30, POGO sent its most recent letter, with an attached article, to Secretary Sebelius. In these documents and others linked to them we urge greater transparency in the vaccine program.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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