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Manufacturing problems hit global supplies of key vaccines

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Worldwide supplies of several vaccines for chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella have been disrupted following a manufacturing problem at a major supplier.

GlaxoSmithKline has advised health authorities around the globe, including the Department of Health, that supplies of all its varicella-containing vaccines have been halted following the detection of a “manufacturing issue” with some batches of its MMRV (Priorix-Tetra) and varicella (Varilrix) vaccines.

Batches of these vaccines had been scheduled to arrive in Australia last month, but have been delayed pending the completion of an investigation by GSK.

The Department said the issue only affected vaccines that had been under production, and all those that have been, or are ready for, distribution in Australia are safe and effective.

The vaccines are used in the National Immunisation Program – Priorix-Tetra is administered to 18 month olds and Varilrix is used for children in secondary school.

But the health authorities said contingency arrangements had been put in place that meant there was not expected to be any disruption to the immunisation program.

 “Demand for these vaccines for the National Immunisation Program is able to be met at this stage through existing stock on hand,” the Department said. “GSK is assisting by directing its existing stock as a priority to the National Immunisation Program.”

It is unclear at this stage when normal supplies will resume, and the Department has sought alternate supplies of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and varicella vaccines.

In addition, the high school varicella vaccination program for 12 and 13-year-olds in Year 7 at high schools in NSW, Victoria and the ACT has been delayed until the latter half of the year.

“The priority is to ensure that MMR and varicella vaccines continue to be available for children at 18 months of age,” the Department said.

Adrian Rollins