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UHS Sells Vaccine Doses to Boston

By Matthew S. Lebowitz, Crimson Staff Writer

University Health Services (UHS) sold 2,000 units of flu vaccine to the Boston Public Health Commission in October to help alleviate the city’s shortage.

UHS ordered more doses of the vaccine than it needed to use to dispense to high risk patients under guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UHS director David S. Rosenthal ’59 said.

So, under a buy-back program, UHS sold 2,000 of the approximately 7,000 doses in its possession to the commission for distribution to patients who needed them.

“We knew that we had to comply with the guidelines of the CDC,” Rosenthal said.

Those guidelines recommend not distributing the vaccine to anyone between the ages of two and 75 except in “high-risk” cases, Rosenthal said.

High-risk cases are those involving patients who suffer from diseases like cystic fibrosis, kidney disease, lung problems, heart disease, cancer, or who have recently finished being treated for such conditions.

Because UHS originally obtained more units of the vaccine than it needed for its number of high-risk patients, it was in a position to sell excess doses to the commission. Officials at the Boston Public Health Commission said they did not know how much was paid for the vaccines.

Rosenthal said that UHS had participated in frequent telephone meetings with the commission, area hospitals and other public agencies since the vaccine shortage began.

UHS then received an audit asking how much surplus vaccine would become available, and the UHS senior management team decided to make the sale.

“We weren’t mandated to do it, but we thought it was the morally and ethically correct thing to do,” Rosenthal said. He added that prior to selling the 2,000 doses, UHS had been receiving phone calls from hospitals and private practices asking for Harvard’s extra supply of flu vaccines and that he and his executive team thought that a public agency would be better equipped to manage the distribution.

John Auerbach, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said that the commission appreciated Harvard’s “civic-mindedness” in selling its excess units of the vaccine. He said that Massachusetts regulations make it illegal to vaccinate high-risk patients during the shortage.

“We were very grateful to Harvard University for its generosity in offering to sell its vaccines to the city,” he said. “That allowed us to direct the vaccine to many of the most vulnerable individuals that otherwise would not have had the opportunity to receive it.”

Some students who have received flu shots from UHS in previous years, like Mark B. Geyer ’06, will not be doing so this year because of the vaccine shortage.

“I don’t plan on getting a flu shot from UHS like I have for the past two years,” said Geyer, who lives in Adams House. “There’s such a shortage, and I felt that it wasn’t a high priority for someone like me to get a flu shot.”

Geyer, who has no medical condition that puts him at high risk for the flu, would be ineligible for a vaccination under the guidelines followed by UHS.

Geyer said he agrees with the decision to sell UHS’s extra flu shots to the Boston commission. “If it will help the city take care of its high-risk citizens, then I think it’s a good idea as long as high-risk students can get the shot too,” he said.

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