Conn. A.G. investigates flu vaccine shortage‏

By Nick Rees | Nov 2, 2009

Richard Blumenthal (D)

HARTFORD, Conn. (Legal Newsline) - Thirteen makers and distributors of scarce seasonal flu vaccines have been written letters by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal over allegations of price fixing and preferential treatment for big retailers.

Seasonal flu vaccines are currently in short supply owing to the switch made by drug makers to produce H1N1 flu vaccine.

Blumenthal's office received complaints of seasonal flu vaccines offered at prices many time the normal level - as much as $100 a dose or higher - as well as allegations that include distributors and manufacturers demanding higher prices for already-ordered doses and distributors buying back vaccine for resale at inflated prices.

The Visiting Nurse Association, private physicians, emergency services agencies and others have also sent Blumenthal complaints about receiving a small fraction of their total seasonal flu vaccine order. Many of the complaints also expressed concern that pharmacy chains and other large retailers may be receiving preferential treatment in the distribution of the vaccine.

"My office is vigorously and aggressively investigating allegations of price gouging and favoritism in distribution of seasonal flu vaccine," Blumenthal said. "A flu shot can mean life or death for seniors and the sick, requiring we assure limited supplies are distributed equitably at a fair price. Price gouging or preferential distribution of such life-saving medication would be unconscionable and unacceptable. I will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law companies or individuals who seek to profiteer from the seasonal flu vaccine shortage."

The letters were sent to vaccine makers GlaxoSmithKline of Brentford, Middlesex, United Kingdom, MedImmune Vaccines, Inc. of Gaithersburg, Md., Sanofi Pasteur of Swiftwater, Pa., and CSL Biotherapies of King of Prussia, Pa., and distributors ABO Pharmaceuticals of San Diego, Calif., Atlantic Biologicals Corp. of Miami, Fla., BDI Pharma of Columbia, S.C., Besse Medical of West Chester, Ohio, Dubin Medical, Inc. of San Diego, Calif., FFF Enterprises of Temecula, Calif., Gulf Coast Pharmaceuticals of Ocean Springs, Md., Nationwide Medical Surgical, Inc. of Van Nuys, Calif., and STAT Pharmaceuticals, Inc. of Santee, Calif.

The letters seek information on how much is currently charged for seasonal flu vaccines and how much was charged three months, six months and one year ago.

Blumenthal also asks for an explanation for any reason for a rise in price, whether the companies are honoring original prices agreed to prior to the seasonal flu vaccine, whether they are repurchasing vaccine and, if so, what they are charging and if it is being made available to customers with open orders at originally agreed upon prices.

The letter also asks how many seasonal flu vaccines distributors have and whether supplies are expected to increase before the end of flu season and by how much. Blumenthal also asks for the criteria and rationale for the allocation of limited supplies shipped to date, whether refunds have been guaranteed to customers not receiving their full orders and what steps can be taken to better assure equitable distribution of limited vaccine supplies.

"I am asking vaccine makers and distributors to detail, prices, supply levels and distribution methods and criteria to guard against favoritism and gouging," Blumenthal said. "I will fight to assure no one makes a killing off the seasonal flu vaccine shortage -- potentially endangering seniors and the sick -- and everyone who needs a shot gets one."

Blumenthal also asks the makers and distributors whether or not they can donate vaccine to charitable health organizations to assure vaccination of health care workers and the vulnerable.

"The vaccine shortage need not shortchange the vulnerable. Need -- not price gouging or buying power -- should dictate allocation of severely limited supply," Blumenthal said. "We must assure that these potentially life-saving vaccines are available to all who truly need them.

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