October 6, 2008 at 4:33PM
by Alexandra Zissu
Some green-leaning parents who are concerned about effects of vaccines, but convinced enough of their safety by current science that they do not want to forgo them altogether, take other, much less drastic measures. They stretch the timeline of when the shots are given, so their children are a bit older for the brunt of them. And they split up the MMR (measles mumps and rubella) vaccine into three single-dose shots instead of giving all three at once.
But on parenting boards across the internet, there has been a bit of a panic lately as families who have gone the split-them-up route are finding themselves two/thirds done with no sign of the third dose available anytime soon. In the New York area, I'm hearing, the rubella component is on backorder at many pediatricians' offices and in neighboring pharmacies known previously to carry it. This comes at a time when schools are asking for forms proving students are up to date with their vaccinations. This creates quite a conundrum.
Parents are now facing the possibility of having to give their child the combined shot they worked to avoid, on top of the two individual dose shots they've already administered, in order to be up to date. Needless to say they're not pleased. Which might be why rumors are running rampant that the (big bad!) pharmaceutical companies are purposely not releasing individual doses as a way to combat demand for them. It's also, parents surmise, a way to counteract concern over the triple dose vaccine.
As many people who have emailed me with vaccine questions over the years have noticed, Deirdre and I didn't weigh in on vaccines in The Complete Organic Pregnancy
. We felt strongly that concerned families should read the most up to date research and make the decisions that are right for them. But when a nurse friend told me her Merck rep said the single doses soon won't be produced any longer, hence the current backlog in the rubella doses, I felt compelled to contact Merck & Co myself to set the record straight.
Here's the response I got from Nalini Saligram
Merck's Director, Global Communications re whether or not they're discontinuing the single dose shots, thereby making it impossible for parents who want to split up the vaccines:
"As you know, our trivalent combination measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (M-M-R II vaccine) is widely recommended and widely used in the US. In the US, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and other policy makers recommend the use of combination M-M-R vaccine to help protect against all three diseases - measles, mumps and rubella. Merck has prioritized the production of M-M-R II, and is committed to meeting the medical need for vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella by providing M-M-R II in adequate supply to meet demand. M-M-R II has been administered to millions of infants worldwide (over 500 million doses distributed to date)and has a well established safety and efficacy profile. We also make very limited quantities of the monovalent vaccines available in the US."
As for the current rubella backlog, she says, "Because quantities are limited, there may be supply interruptions / unavailability of individual products from time to time. We do provide M-M-R II vaccine to meet the needs for vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella."
This doesn't speak to exactly how limited the quantities are, or if they're more limited than they used to be. But apparently they have not been discontinued for now. If you haven't already begun spacing them out, ask your pediatrician to make sure all three doses will be available in a timely fashion. Still, if you want and need to have your child vaccinated for all three in time for school, the triple sounds like the only sure thing for now.