Hib immunization protects kids against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) bacteria — once the leading cause of meningitis in children and a common culprit in a host of other serious diseases.
Unfortunately, the recommended immunization for infants and toddlers was put in short supply last winter when pharmaceutical company Merck (one of the two makers of the vaccine) voluntarily recalled about 1 million doses of the Hib vaccines and put production on hold for a while, too.
Now, the shortage is expected to continue until mid-2009, which means many young kids still won't be able to get this important immunization. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there's plenty available for infants.
The Hib shot usually is given at 2 months, 4 months, and sometimes 6 months of age, but the shortage has kept some tots from getting the booster, which usually comes at 12-15 months old.
So, why the recall? Merck pulled the vaccine when it discovered an equipment issue that could have potentially caused microorganisms to survive a step in the sterilization process. Merck's recall was just a precaution — the company never actually found any contaminated vaccines, the pulled vaccines posed no health threat, and there hadn't been any reports of adverse symptoms related to the recalled immunization.
Still, the ongoing vaccine shortage has left many kids under 5 more vulnerable to a potentially serious Hib infection.
What This Means to You
Despite its name, Haemophilus influenzae type B bacteria is not related to influenza (the flu) virus, and the Hib vaccine does not protect against the flu — that's a different vaccine altogether.
Besides providing protection against meningitis, the Hib vaccine protects kids from other serious infections like pneumonia, pericarditis (an infection of the membrane covering the heart), and infections of the blood, bones, and joints caused by the bacteria.
If you have a baby over 2 months old who hasn't gotten any of the vaccines in the Hib series, talk to your doctor — there should still be plenty to go around for infants' first year. Be sure to request all of the vaccines in the series and the booster if your child is considered to be at high risk (that includes kids with certain immunosuppressive conditions, like sickle cell disease, or those who are more prone to Hib infections, including American Indians and Native Alaskans).
Although U.S. health officials say they haven't seen a rise in Hib infections since the recall, they worry what a lengthy lack in the booster might mean. The United Kingdom saw an increase in Hib cases in 1999 when no booster shot was included in the immunization schedule.
One thing's for sure, vaccines remain a crucial tool for protecting kids against many serious and potentially deadly diseases during childhood and beyond. If you have concerns about the Hib vaccine or any vaccination, be sure to talk to your doctor before deciding to delay or skip an immunization.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2008
Source: "Continued Shortage of Haemophilus influenzae Type b (Hib) Conjugate Vaccines and Potential Implications for Hib Surveillance — United States, 2008," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Nov. 21, 2008.