Doctors say that they are deeply concerned about the shortages in vaccines. *iStock photo
Doctors say that they are deeply concerned about the shortages in vaccines. *iStock photo

A chronic shortage of children’s vaccinations has sparked “deep concerns” among doctors on the island.

Supplies of at least five vaccines, including jabs routinely given to young babies, have either run out or have hit worryingly low levels.

Last night the Ministry of Health acknowledged several doctors had recently experienced an “escalation in problems” getting hold of vaccines.

And a spokesperson said the department “regretted the inconvenience caused by not being able to meet current demand for some vaccines”.

But doctors say that the shortage of immunizations such as Pentacel, which prevents whooping cough,  and the Hepatitis B jab needs to addressed as quickly as possible.

Pediatrician Peter Perinchief told the Bermuda Sun: “We are deeply concerned at the current situation because at present we are unable to immunize a number of these children adequately. The reason we are able to keep a lid on these diseases is because we have a continual immunization programme that commences shortly from when babies are born. If we get a gap in this continuity we are going to get a section of the population that has an increased, albeit temporary, susceptibility to these diseases.

“Because of this shortage we now have a list of hundreds of patients whom we are going to have to track down when the new supplies finally arrive on the island. To bring them back to the surgery places an enormous burden on everyone concerned — both parents and office staff.

“The priority has to be the Pentacel at the moment — as it covers several of the most dangerous diseases that infants may be exposed to at a vulnerable period in their lives.

“Pertussis or whooping cough is a particular concern.

“I would however add that parents should not panic. The two-18 month infants are surrounded by children who have been immunized and the herd immunity so produced would reduce the probability of a mini-epidemic and the like.”

While Dr Steve West, from Wee Care Pediatrics, took to the surgery’s Facebook page to voice his concerns about the shortage and keep parents informed. He said: “We have received an email from the Chief Medical Officer saying the shortages are due to increased usage of the vaccines - however there have been no recent changes in the vaccine schedule that would cause such a significant shortage. As well, the birth rate for the island is well known or easily obtainable, and with just a fairly recent census done, we should have a fairly good idea how many children there are on the island. Certainly a statistician should be able to figure this out. My concern obviously, is that your children could be at increased risk if their immunizations are delayed significantly.”

Complex procedure

The spokesperson for the Health Department said calculating orders was a complicated procedure based on ‘historic usage patterns’.

She added: “Of the 36 vaccines and biological products procured by the Department annually, approximately five have been in persistently low supply (below par levels) over the past 4 months:  Pentacel/Pediacel/Pentaxim, Adacel, Tetanus adsorbed, Gardasil, and Hepatitis B Pediatric.

 “Current supplies of these vaccines are such that the Department is unable to fill all requests from individual physician offices. When supplies are restored, a notice will be sent via email to Pediatric offices. The reasons for the relative shortages vary depending on the vaccine and the Department is working to identify the root cause of each shortage and to rectify it. As we analyze the current situation, we will surely identify imperfections in our system of projection of need, response to fluctuations in demand, and ordering. These will be addressed. Unfortunately, this present situation cannot be remedied instantaneously as some obstacles are outside the control of the Department. The demand for Adacel (Tdap) in the community increased markedly in late 2012-2013 as a result of a change in immunization recommendations from various health authorities and a surge in use by healthcare professionals and students.  To compound matters, there is a worldwide production shortage.  As a result, we have had to prioritize usage of this vaccine. Likewise, local demand for Gardasil increased two-fold in 2012-2013. We await an additional order, which was placed in April. 

 “Additionally, Department supplies of Pentacel/Pediacel/Pentaxim diminished due to a delay in supply delivery, but will return to par levels once an expected shipment arrives.

“In the interim, we must only fill small orders so that all offices have access to some of this vaccine.”