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Tetanus Vaccine Shortage Puts Health Officials on Alert

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Those who are most affected by the shortage are adults requiring a routine booster. Also, kids going off to college in the fall who want to keep their tetanus booster current may be told to wait until next year, according to Hopkins.

The tetanus problem began months ago when Wyeth-Ayerst, one of two manufacturers of the adult tetanus vaccine, announced they would no longer make it due to a "business decision." Since then, the sole remaining manufacturer has been trying to keep up with the demand. But, they are limited by the fact that each batch of vaccine takes 11 months to produce.

"It is a severe shortage in that it clearly changes our practice," says Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, in Seattle. "What we used to say was that every contact with the healthcare system should be a time to review and update immunization. This shortage is severe enough that ... we don't want to give routine boosters to people, which really is unprecedented in the United States."

Fortunately, the immunity provided by tetanus shots lasts a long time, so waiting another year if you're due for your booster now isn't really a big deal, says Neuzil, a member of the physician advisory board for the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine Adult Immunization Initiative and a liaison to the CDC's vaccine committee on immunization practices.

Although doctors are being instructed to keep track of people whose boosters are being delayed, she says if yours is delayed, it's a good idea to remind your physician about it next year, just in case.

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