Rabies vaccine supply recovering

Published on December 01, 2008
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Rabies vaccine supplies in the United States have rebounded since May, when restrictions began for prophylaxis distribution.

The nation's two vaccine suppliers, Novartis and Sanofi Pasteur, are distributing postexposure prophylaxis, and Novartis is distributing pre-exposure doses for some first responders such as animal control officers and state diagnosticians, said Dr. Charles Rupprecht, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's rabies program.

Both companies have had periods this year when they were not distributing any vaccine, but those periods did not overlap and there were no points when vaccine was not available for people exposed to rabies.

Sanofi Pasteur began renovations last June at the company's vaccine production facility in France, but produced inventory of its vaccine based on historical demand. Supply problems began after Novartis fell short on production of its vaccine this year.

Sanofi Pasteur's IMOVAX vaccine is currently available with a password given by state health officials, who perform risk assessments and determine if distribution is warranted. No password is needed to receive Novartis' RabAvert vaccine.

Dr. Rupprecht said ample vaccine supply could be available from the two manufacturers as early as spring and as late as fall 2009. He expressed optimism that Novartis could create more vaccine, potentially for pre-exposure use, during winter.

Dr. Rupprecht has said the U.S. government should consider whether to create a rabies vaccine reserve.

"We're hopeful, given the lessons learned from '07 to date, that serious considerations will be paid to trying to set up such a portfolio for rabies in the stockpile," Dr. Rupprecht said.