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Summer travelers face vaccine shortage

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A shortage of the yellow fever vaccine will soon impact summer travelers. 

“It’s a problem now, but the worst is yet to come,” said Dr. William Largen of Lowcountry Infectious Diseases, which operates travel clinics in West Ashley and Summerville. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today outlined a plan to supply the vaccine in the United States once the current stock runs out, which is expected as early as June.   

The YF-VAX yellow fever vaccine, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, is the only yellow fever vaccine licensed for use in this country. The yellow fever virus is transmitted by mosquitos. 

“They’re the same ones that can transmit Zika,” Largen said. 

Largen said between 50 and 100 people come to his two Charleston-area clinics for yellow fever vaccinations each year. 

“Summer is when demand picks up because people like to travel during the summer and we see students going to South America and Africa on mission trips,” he said. 

Patients in the Lowcountry area can expect to pay between $190 to $240 for the shot, Largen said. Once the shot is given, he says it lasts a lifetime with no booster required.

“It used to be we could place orders (for the yellow fever vaccine) online, but now we have to call the manufacturer and demonstrate we have patients who are traveling where shots are recommended,” Largen said. 

When a patient books an appointment and his office calls for the vaccine, he says the first thing his staff asks is when the patient is going and what their destination is. Largen said there are 42 countries which recommend travelers have a yellow fever immunization, but 20 countries require proof of a vaccination.  

Priority, he said, is now being given to patients who are traveling in the next 30 days. 

According to the CDC, last year a manufacturing issue at Sanofi Pasteur limited the production of YF-VAX. Because yellow fever can potentially be serious, a vaccine used in France may be substituted, following authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.

That vaccine, Stamaril, is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur in France, and according to the CDC, is distributed in more than 70 countries.

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