Nationwide shortage of yellow fever vaccine hits UMC

Nationwide shortage of yellow fever vaccine hits UMC

CW File

The national shortage of the yellow fever vaccine, YF-VAX, has spread here to Tuscaloosa where the University Medical Center has also run out of the vaccine.

“Across the United States there are usually 4,000 designated yellow fever clinics that can give the vaccine,” said Angela Hammond, a certified registered nurse practitioner and the clinical director for the Family and Staff Clinic at the UMC. “Now there’s about 250 in the country that are probably gonna have it.” 

UA faculty and students traveling to other countries that require the vaccine need to be aware that supplies in Alabama are highly limited. 

“There is still access to yellow fever vaccine, and generally people need to get this vaccine if they’re doing some international travel to Africa and South America,”  Leslie Zganjar, director of communications for the UMC, said. “People have to make sure they get this vaccine before they leave.”

Hammond said a “conglomeration of events”, including Hurricane Maria and a manufacturing error by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, caused the yellow fever vaccine shortage. 

With the limited supply of YF-VAX, the CDC has decided to make a temporary alternative available.

“What the CDC has done is they’ve allowed an alternative vaccine called Stamaril, but it’s limited to a few clinics,” said Dr. Thomas Weida, associate dean of Clinical Affairs and chief medical officer for the UMC.

The 250 remaining clinics that will have the yellow fever vaccine are the only ones receiving Stamaril. 

“It’s classified as investigational but it’s been around a long time,” Weida said. “It’s been used in other countries and has the same safety and effectiveness as the other yellow fever vaccine. It’s just that it hasn't been approved in the United States by the FDA. The reason for that is that it takes a lot of paperwork.”

Stamaril’s availability is only temporary in the U.S. However, the substitute vaccine Stamaril is reported to be used in about 70 countries, Zganjar said. It is known to be a safe and effective way to prevent yellow fever. 

“The way the FDA describes it is that it’s not licensed in the U.S. but it is making the vaccine available in the U.S,” Zganjar said. 

The only location in Alabama where the YF-VAX alternative Stamaril is available is in Birmingham at the Jefferson County Department of Health. 

It must be noted that these vaccines like YF-VAX and other travel vaccines are usually not covered by insurance, Weida said. He says it doesn’t make sense to him. 

“They’ll cover the treatment for your yellow fever but not to prevent yellow fever,” Weida said. “It’s probably because of how insurance companies were initially designed to cover disease and not prevention."

According to a clinical update on the CDC’s website, Sanofi Pasteur declared on Feb. 22 that it is expected to have new shipments of YF-VAX restocked by the end of 2018. 

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