Agencies Say Distributor Shipped Flu Vaccine to Higher-Paying Buyers First
Some customers who ordered doses of the flu vaccine earlier this year from the drug distributor Henry Schein Inc. say their orders are going "unfilled," while customers who recently ordered the vaccine at higher prices are having their shipments "quickly delivered," the New York Times reports. Over the past week, some customers who placed orders with Henry Schein and its subsidiaries have said that they have received only partial shipments of the vaccine or no vaccine at all, even while Schein "is taking new orders at higher prices," some of which have been filled quickly. "We think the distribution of the vaccine should be fair. It should not be awarded to the highest bidder," Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.) said. Condit called on the General Accounting Office to investigate Schein's distribution practices after the California Department of Health Services last week found itself with only 35% of the 700,000 doses of vaccine it had ordered. California had placed its order with the Schein subsidiary General Injectables and Vaccines in February, purchasing the doses at $1.80 each. General Injectables had told California state officials that it would deliver the order "no later than Sept. 15," later changing that date to October. Additional doses arrived on Nov. 15, bringing the state's total to just 65% of its original order. However, General Injectables delivered the state of Maine's entire order in early September, even though it was placed in June, about four months after California's. Maine purchased 123,500 doses of the flu vaccine at either $3.10 or $3.99 each. In addition, an order placed only a few weeks ago by Dr. Stephen Dickey at the Doctors Walk-in Clinics in Tampa, Fla., arrived last week. Dickey purchased 3,000 doses for about $7.50 each from Schein subsidiary Caligor. "Any price manipulations that may put profit ahead of the health and well-being of the American people is simply wrong," Condit said. Schein said yesterday that its policy was to "first fill orders placed early by doctors, and then to fill other early orders, like those of state governments." Susan Vasallo, a Schein spokesperson, said she "could not explain why the company was shipping vaccine to some customers that placed orders only in the last few weeks," but "insisted" that Schein "was not delivering vaccine based on the price paid" since that "is not the [company's] policy." Vasallo added, "We are trying to fulfill orders as best we can. There probably are some exceptions. How many of those took place I could not say. But those are the exceptions, not the rule." Vasallo said she "could not comment on individual customers' cases" (Petersen, New York Times, 11/17).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.