Local News

Tetanus Shortage Forces Hospitals To Ration Supplies

Posted September 6, 2001

— When was the last time you had a tetanus shot? Many people do not know, but now it is more important than ever to know the answer.

Most of us are not up to date on their immunizations. Of those who are, many do not know when their last shot was.

That is important to know, since we are in the middle of a severe tetanus booster shortage. About a year ago, one of the two companies manufacturing the booster quit without warning. Until the other company fills the void, there are new rules for who gets a booster and who does not.

Emergency rooms and health departments are about the only places you can get a tetanus booster right now -- and only in case of an emergency.

"Here at Rex, we restrict it for people we treat for wounds in the emergency room," Dr. Brian Quigley of the Rex Hospital Emergency Department said.

Most people think you only get tetanus from getting a cut on a tin can, but that is not true. The bacteria grows in dirt, so basically any cut or scrape where you come in contact with dirt and bacteria can invite tetanus into your body.

Even with the strict rations, at times hospitals do run out.

"We have occasionally over the past year been completely out, and we have been able to get it either from another hospital or an emergency shipment from the manufacturer," Director of Rex Pharmacy Doug Poe said.

So far though, the plan seems to be working-- everyone who really needs a booster has gotten one. But doctors warn the shortage is not close to being over.

"We're estimating it's going to be 11 months before the manufacturer can catch up with the demand," said Quigley.

The booster lasts 10 years, which means if you get a cut and your shots are up-to-date, you probably will not need one. Of course most people do not know when their last shot was, but if you do, it helps out the hospitals, and also means one less shot for you.

If you have young children, you do not have to worry about their missing out on vaccinations. Their tetanus shot is a different formulation, of which there is no shortage.

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