PORTLAND, Ore. – A national recall of nearly 5 million expired H1N1 vaccine nasal mists has spilled into Oregon.
The Oregon Public Health department reports that 85,400 doses made their way to Oregon. As of Wednesday, more than 1,700 newly-expired mist applications had been found and were in the process of being returned to the manufacturer.
To be sure, the vaccines aren't a safety hazard. "It's just a little bit less potent; it's kind of like a vitamin that has expired," said Oregon Public Health public information officer Alissa Bateman. "There are no safety issues at all."
It is unclear how many more of the expired MedImmune-brand FluMist vaccines are still in Oregon - likely tucked away in hospital and clinic refrigerators. Bateman expects it to take a couple more weeks before all totals from the nearly 340 H1N1 vaccine providers throughout the state of Oregon are in and tabulated.
This marks at least the second recall of expired vaccines over the past month. In early December, vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur recalled what was leftover from 800,000 pediatric half-dose vaccines. In the recent pediatric vaccine recall, only 7,600 recalled doses came to Oregon – dispersed to Columbia, Douglas and Umatilla counties.
The Associated Press reported tests done before those shots were shipped showed that the vaccines were strong enough. However, tests done weeks later indicated the strength had fallen slightly below required levels.
In all, recalled vaccines comprise about 7 percent of Oregon's delivered H1N1 vaccine. However, "the majority of doses were most likely used before they were [expired]," Bateman reports.
Most of MedImmunes' vaccines were used up in October, before the recalled mists may have began losing their potency. (Of note, MedImmune's parent company is AstraZeneca.)
"The idea now is that if hospitals and clinics still have it in their frigerator from back in October, those vaccines should be returned," said Dr. Paul Lewis, deputy health officer for Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington County. "We know the stuff was going like hotcakes, so very, very little is left - it has mostly been administered. When it was administered we believe it had its normal strength, so the people who received the vaccine are fully protected."
Calls to MedImmune and the federal Center for Disease Control – to determine the cost to the federal government for mist vaccines that have lost their potency after mere months – were not immediately answered.
"Our immunization office doesn't have that information available," reports Bateman, "as that process is completely between CDC and the vaccine manufacturers."