Sometimes, the amount of a certain vaccine cannot keep up with the number of people who need it. Vaccine shortages can affect certain areas of the country or the whole country. A shortage may last a few days to several months.
In the past, the United States has had shortages of influenza (flu) vaccines, pneumococcal vaccines, tetanus vaccines (including the DTaP vaccine given to children as a part of their regular immunizations), and others.
What causes vaccine shortages?
A vaccine shortage can occur for many reasons. These may include the following:
- A company that makes a vaccine is not able to produce the vaccine fast enough to meet the demand.
- A company decides to stop making a vaccine for business reasons.
- A vaccine's supplier is not able to send out the vaccine quickly enough.
A combination of these reasons can cause a vaccine shortage in one or more areas of the country.
What happens during a vaccine shortage?
Your family doctor will get information about the shortage, how long it will last, and what to do until he or she gets a new supply of the vaccine. Typically, the vaccine supply is not completely wiped out. There are just fewer doses than usual. During this time, doctors give vaccines first to the people who need them most. This list may include the elderly, very young children, pregnant women, people who have certain medical problems, and people who plan to travel to other countries. Other people are put on a waiting list. They are called in to the doctor's office when the vaccine is available again.
How can I get more information?
If you have any questions about vaccine shortages, talk to your family doctor. He or she can give you information about how a shortage might affect you, your family, and your community.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Immunization Program website (see "Other Organizations" at the bottom of this handout) has information about current vaccine shortages in the United States. The website is reviewed and updated as needed to provide information on vaccine shortages or delays.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff