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Shortage Of Vaccine For Infants Is Prompting Dosage Cutbacks

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ATLANTA -- A worsening shortage of the vaccine Prevnar led health officials Tuesday to warn doctors not to give babies the last two doses of the vaccine in order to stretch the available supply. Prevnar is given to babies at 2, 4 and 6 months, and again between 12 and 15 months, to fight pneumococcal bacteria, the most common cause of bacterial meningitis.

Children with sickle cell anemia or immune disorders, who are at high risk of serious illness, should be given all four doses, but all others should get only the first two, said Steve Cochi, acting director of the National Immunization Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies suggest two doses provide about 90% protection, he said.

Vaccine manufacturer Wyeth reported production problems at the end of last year, prompting the CDC to suspend the fourth dose of Prevnar just three weeks ago. A ''further deterioration in the production line'' caused a greater shortage, Cochi said, though he did not know details of Wyeth's production problems.

The current need is for 1.3 million doses of Prevnar per month, but Wyeth says it can only produce about 55% of what is needed. It's not clear how long the shortage will last, Cochi said, but it could stretch at least into the summer months.

The CDC, along with the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics, has advised doctors and state immunization clinics of the recommendation.

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