US vaccine shortage yields widespread crisis outreach

WASHINGTON: Chiron's failure to provide roughly half this year's supply of flu vaccine has sparked an aggressive crisis-control effort by the US government - and more than a few communications opportunities for health-related companies.

WASHINGTON: Chiron's failure to provide roughly half this year's supply of flu vaccine has sparked an aggressive crisis-control effort by the US government - and more than a few communications opportunities for health-related companies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken the lead on government outreach efforts, partnering with multiple federal departments to spread the word on who should forgo vaccinations this year.

"People recognize the urgency," said Llelwyn Grant, senior press officer at the CDC. "Our partners recognize the urgency, and are looking to the CDC for guidance."

Ogilvy PR, which works on several CDC public-education projects, is helping to conduct radio media tours and produce VNRs explaining who needs the shot and alternative ways of staying healthy, said EVP Yolan LaPorte.

Grant noted that two hotlines have been set up - one for the public and one for healthcare providers; both have fielded hundreds of calls, he said. Senior CDC officials have also been holding regular conference calls with the media.

DC-based firm HMA Associates is executing one Spanish-language radio news tour featuring Dr. Cristina Beato, assistant secretary for health at the Department for Health and Human Services, and an African-American one featuring Dr. Bonnie Word, a physician at Texas Children's Hospital. Grant said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also taken a major role in delivering the message.

Pharmacies and health-related companies, meanwhile, are gearing up for a flu season that could see more than the usual number of cases.

MinuteClinic, a company that offers quick medical care in Target and Cub Food stores, is working with TBC PR to stay top of mind with consumers who will need flu remedies.

"It's unfortunate, but more people are going to get sick," said VP Brent Burkhardt, who noted that the company changed its message from promoting the flu shot to promoting tests and treatment. "It will become an important source of business."

"We've been getting calls to the customer-service line," said Patrick Fitzgerald, director of PR for General Nutrition Centers. "While I wouldn't describe it as a panic, I would say there is increased customer concern."

Chiron's role is still unclear. The biotech company might be under investigation for failing to adequately inform investors of problems at its UK plant, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Chiron did not return calls for comment. But in an October 5 investor conference call, CEO Howard Pien said that the company has communicated regularly with public health officials, and has made its entire IR team available.

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