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A Shortage of the Yellow Fever Vaccine: What Sports Event Owners Need to Know

17 May, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
You Won’t Need it in the U.S., but if You’re Planning Events in Certain International Destinations, Athletes Should Get Vaccines While Supplies Last

It might be the one problem that didn’t plague Rio in the months preceding the 2016 Summer Games. It also might be one of the few times a disease that is extinct in the U.S. causes problems for its residents. Well – at least finding a way to get the vaccine for it will cause a problem.

A manufacturing problem has created a shortage of the only yellow fever vaccine licensed in the United States. An article in Meetings & Conventions noted a statement by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that doses could run out as early as next month. Officials are bringing in another vaccine currently being used in other countries, but it will be available at only about 250 of the 4,000 U.S. clinics that give the shot.

Why is this important for sports planners? Because the vaccine is recommended for travelers to certain areas in South America and Africa, and about 20 countries require proof of vaccination for entry. (A list of destinations and the vaccines required to enter is available here on the CDC’s website.) And with school out and summer sports travel in full swing when the shortage is critical, planners and event owners will need to do their homework immediately, and spread the word to athletes.

For most people, only one dose of vaccine is needed in their lifetime to protect against the potentially deadly disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

With international sports travel on the rise, it will become imperative for event owners to make sure all participants are informed about health regulations, particularly when it comes to vaccines that may be hard to find.

Travelers who want the vaccine will need to plan ahead, said the CDC's Dr. Martin Cetron. "It may take longer, and you may have to travel a greater distance" to get the immunization.

The Meetings & Conventions article notes,

Because yellow fever was wiped out in the U.S. over a century ago, the shot is not part of routine vaccinations. The virus is spread by the same mosquito that transmits other tropical diseases, including Zika. Most people improve after a round of fever, chills and other symptoms. But roughly 15 percent get more seriously ill and can develop internal bleeding and organ failure.
 
Stockpiles of the vaccine have been strained globally, and shortages were a major problem during recent outbreaks in Africa. A smaller outbreak emerged this year in Brazil. Drugmaker Sanofi Pasteur said it stopped making the U.S.-licensed vaccine because of broken equipment at its Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, plant. Production is being shifted to a new factory opening next year, company officials said.

The problem, officials note, is that while there are clinics that normally do stock the vaccine, the supplies may be depleted by the time individuals with travel plans get around to asking about being immunized. And since time is not on anyone’s side right now, it behooves planners of international events to find out which vaccines athletes will need, and reach out to them with all necessary information. The only other option is to move tournaments to locations where the vaccine is not required.

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