Oct 15, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Federal health officials today ruled out using any of Chiron Corporation’s influenza vaccine in the United States this year, following the completion of inspections at the company’s plant in Liverpool, England.Shipment of Chiron’s 48 million doses of vaccine was halted last week when the British government shut down the plant because of concerns about contamination. US officials had held out little hope that any of the Chiron vaccine could be used, and today’s announcement confirmed the bad news.”Today we’re announcing that none of the flu vaccine made by Chiron for the US market is safe,” Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Acting Commissioner Lester Crawford said at a news briefing late this afternoon. The announcement confirms the disappearance of nearly half of the previously projected US supply of 100 million doses.Crawford said FDA officials who finished inspecting Chiron’s Liverpool plant this afternoon found violations of “good manufacturing practices.” “We did enough testing to conclude that we couldn’t guarantee the safety of any of the vaccine,” he said. “The contamination appears to be from the filling of the vials; that has to be done in a sterile way, and we’re not sure that was the case.” He said the contamination involved the bacterial species Serratia marcescens.About a million doses of Chiron vaccine that had already been shipped to the United States probably can’t be used either, Crawford said. “Our inclination and intention here is to test and retest those lots and see if some of it can be used. We are not optimistic about that and in fact do not believe it can be used,” he said.The Chiron disaster has left Aventis Pasteur as the only supplier of injectable vaccine for the US market. Aventis has produced 55.4 million doses, about 33 million of which have already been shipped to customers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Because of the shortage, the CDC has recommended that healthy people forgo flu shots so the doses can be saved for people at high risk for flu complications, such as the elderly, infants, and people with chronic illness. The agency is working with Aventis to assure that the remaining doses go to those groups.Crawford said the Department of Health and Human Services is hunting everywhere for more vaccine. “Literally every flu vaccine manufacturer in the world is being contacted, and some progress is being made,” he said, without giving specifics.The CDC said today that Aventis shipped more than 2 million doses of flu vaccine this week to providers serving high-risk groups, including the Veterans Administration, long-term care facilities, hospitals, state public health agencies, the Vaccines for Children Program, and private providers who care for young children.”More doses of vaccine will be going out over the next 6-7 weeks so there will be more opportunity for those who need this vaccine to get it in time for this year’s influenza season,” CDC Director Julie Gerberding said in a news release.Amplifying this message at the news briefing, Gerberding said, “We recommend that people not wait in long lines [for vaccine] but rather call ahead to make an appointment. . . . We have very limited flu activity in the US right now, so there is still time for us to get these vaccine doses out and for people to receive them without having to wait in long lines.”Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urged providers not to give flu shots to healthy people in low-risk groups. “It’s a numbers issue,” he said. Roughly 45 million people in the high-risk groups are expected to seek flu shots, which means there are just enough doses for them, he explained.Gerberding said the CDC has a stockpile of antiviral drugs that can help the nation cope with the vaccine shortage. “We’ve gotten 5 million doses of rimantadine for the stockpile. . . . We also have a stockpile of oseltamivir which would be used for treating influenza,” she said. She added that the CDC will be providing more information soon and will look into whether production of antivirals can be increased.In other developments, reports of exorbitant prices for scarce flu vaccine prompted HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson yesterday to urge states to prosecute price gougers.”I am encouraging the attorney general of each state to thoroughly investigate reports of price gouging and prosecute those engaging in this immoral and illegal activity to the full extent of the law,” Thompson said in a letter he sent to attorneys general and released publicly.At the same time, Thompson said it was “doubtful” that the United States would be able to buy significant supplies of flu vaccine from Canada or other foreign sources, according to the Associated Press (AP) and other news services.The FDA has been talking with two companies that sell flu vaccine in Canada and other countries and have “a few million” unsold doses, the AP reported. But the vaccines are not licensed in the United States, and Thompson said it was unlikely the producers could meet FDA requirements in time for this season, according to the report.Thompson’s comments came a day after President Bush, in the Oct 13 presidential debate, said Canadian supplies might ease the US vaccine shortage.According to the AP, hospitals have reported distributors offering flu vaccine for as much as $100 per shot, compared with normal retail prices of $12 to $20. In his letter to attorneys general, Thompson said the CDC is collecting reports of price gouging and sharing them with the National Association of Attorneys General and state prosecutors.One sign of the surging demand for flu vaccine came from Denver, where someone stole 780 doses from a clinic in suburban Aurora, according to a report in yesterday’s Denver Post. The doses were taken from a refrigerator at Kids Aurora, a private, two-doctor pediatric clinic, the story said.
Starting Thursday, paper tickets will no longer be sold at Expo Line stations. Instead, passengers will only be able to purchase reusable Transit Access Pass cards in order to ride the line.Carded · Annette Gomez, a freshman majoring in gerontology, uses her Transit Access Pass at a station along the Expo Line. Beginning Thursday, TAP cards will replace all paper tickets. – Ricardo Galvez | Daily TrojanTicket vending machines will no longer sell paper tickets and passengers will instead purchase TAP cards for a one-time $1 fee. These plastic payment cards allow Metro users to buy and electronically load Metro passes, participating transit line passes and cash directly to their card.Exclusive use of TAP cards is part of Metro’s transition to include locked turnstiles in all subway and rail stations.Come November, Metro Rail will also begin the process of locking turnstiles, including those at the Expo Line stations near USC. Tapping a TAP card on a turnstile will simultaneously unlock the gate and charge the train’s fare.The process started last winter, Metro spokesperson Anna Chen said. After conducting a 10-week gate locking test along the Red Line, Metro slowly began converting all ticket vending machines to TAP card machines, a process that will be completed by early next month. Pending approval from its board of directors, Metro will begin to incorporate the locked turnstiles starting in November.“If all goes as scheduled, this should be completed by May of next year,” Chen said.Many stations currently use unlocked turnstiles that allow passengers to enter without tapping their TAP card. Though the fine for fare evasion is up to $250, Chen said this has not stopped some users from taking advantage of the unguarded system.“Fare evasion is definitely something we want to discourage,” Chen said. “For a $1.50 flat rate, our fares are the lowest in the nation. There’s no reason why people shouldn’t pay the fare.”Chen believes Los Angeles is finally catching up to other big cities by locking turnstiles.“This is something that should have happened a while ago,” Chen said. “If you take the subway in New York or Chicago, the gates are locked. It should be that way here in Los Angeles.”The first station set to feature locked turnstiles is the Wilshire/Normandie Station on the Purple Line. Depending on the response, Metro hopes to continue locking the remaining stations until they are all secure. The stations will continue to be unguarded, but Metro staff will be available to assist new TAP users.The Expo Line stations near USC are not currently equipped with turnstiles but now feature the new TAP system. Anisha Veer, a junior majoring in business administration, thinks the TAP card makes using Metro more convenient.“It makes it easier for people to travel on the Metro,” Veer said. “The TAP card is great for me because I’m a frequent Metro user and this way I don’t have to wait in line to get a ticket. I use it for the Expo Line, but I can use it for other lines as well.”Other students, like freshman communication major Matt Cheung, see even more potential in the card.“In Hong Kong, they have a similar card called the Octopus that is used for the metro, buses, airport shuttles and [convenience] stores,” Cheung said. “One thing I think TAP could work on is integration with privatized companies like Zipcar and Prime Time Shuttle, which would make things a lot easier.”Regardless of the potential drawbacks some see in the new system, others said the Metro is a useful took for students.“The Metro [system] is something all students should learn how to use, especially in a big city like Los Angeles, not just for a matter of convenience, but as a safety precaution as well,” said Isabel Lemon, a sophomore majoring in theater. “I know which line I need to take to get back to USC from wherever I am.”Looking forward, an investment in a TAP card could be a smart choice for USC students, especially those without cars. For students, Metro offers a college/vocational TAP card. The card, priced at $36, allows unlimited rides for 30 days, including on the Expo Line, which goes between Downtown Los Angeles and Culver City.“I really hope the line from Culver City to Santa Monica finishes soon,” Veer said. “Then USC students can get to Santa Monica in 30 minutes.”Starting next month, Metro stations will only accept TAP cards.