Defense contractors got flu vaccine before schools, hospitals: report
Corporate offices at defense contractors and energy companies in Texas received doses of swine flu vaccine at a time when the vaccine was in short supply and the state’s hospitals and schools were receiving none, says a news report published Tuesday.
USA Today reports that Bell Helicopter received 100 doses and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics received 80 doses in October or early November, when the vaccine was scarce. Energy companies Chevron (190 doses) ExxonMobil (160 doses), Dow Chemical (170 doses) and ConocoPhillips (110 doses) also received shipments the newspaper says were destined for the companies’ corporate clinics.
“Thousands of registered providers — doctors, hospitals, schools, pharmacies — in Texas alone got no doses in that period,” USA Today reports.
A memorandum circulated in October by Lockheed Martin indicates the company either did not expect to receive the H1N1 vaccine, or was keeping its corporate supply a secret from the rank-and-file.
“A limited supply of H1N1 vaccine is expected to be available from public health authorities in mid-October for high-risk individuals, but corporations including Lockheed Martin are not expected initially to have the vaccine to provide directly to employees,” the memorandum stated.
Earlier this fall, news reports indicated that Texas was suffering from a shortage of flu vaccine to combat the H1N1 virus. In October, state health officials reported that they received only about 142,000 doses of an expected 237,000-dose shipment.
Doctors in the state told the Associated Press they were frustrated with the “piecemeal” way that the flu vaccine was making its way into the state.
“We’re being bombarded with requests to see when we’re going to have it,” family physician Dr. Armando Jarquin told AP last month. “I’m not really optimistic that I’m going to get what I ask.”
USA Today studied data on vaccine distribution in three states — Texas, Florida and Georgia — and found that numerous corporations were given priority for vaccines ahead of health care providers, schools and individuals.
The newspaper reports:
The Toyota Family Health Center in San Antonio, which got 2,120 doses, initially focused on the CDC’s priority groups, but since Nov. 16 has offered the vaccine to any employee, contractor or family member, spokesman Craig Mullenbach said.
Norwegian Cruise Line in Miami used its 300 doses “to vaccinate critical on-board staff on our ships,” spokeswoman AnneMarie Mathews said. She said recipients included medical staff, youth counselors and “key officers responsible for the safe operation of the vessel” but did not address how the counselors and officers fit into CDC’s priority groups.
Walt Disney World got 2,200 doses for college-age theme park workers and members of its 100-person medical team. Universal Orlando Resort got 100 doses.
When questioned about the corporate vaccine handouts, state health officials defended their decisions.
“We’re not playing favorites with Disney,” Dain Weister of the Orange County, Florida, Health Department told USA Today.
“We’ve been doing the very best we can to fairly distribute the vaccine to a wide variety of providers,” said Carrie Williams of the Texas health department.
— Ron Brynaert contributed to this report