The state's medical school is donating half a million tetanus shots to people in Haiti suffering from earthquake-related medical problems and a shattered health care system.
The University of Massachusetts Medical School and its affiliate MassBiologics will send the vaccine with medical teams from New England that will travel to Haiti this summer, said Dr. Terence Flotte, dean of the medical school in Worcester.
"There is clearly a need," he said. "Most of the population is inadequately immunized."
As a result, tetanus, a usually fatal disease no longer seen in the US, is being seen with regularity in Haiti.
Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can take hold in puncture wounds or other wounds that can't be kept clean in the difficult living conditions that persist four months after the earthquake. Pregnant women are also a high priority for initial vaccination or booster shots because they can pass on protection to their newborn babies, who are at high risk. Remaining doses could go to people who have never been inoculated, Flotte said.
When he went with a team to Haiti two weeks after the earthquake hit in January, he and others brought 1,000 tetanus shots from MassBiologics with them as they cared for people in smaller locations unserved by larger health care efforts. The donation announced today will be distributed in a similar way, Flotte said.
The tetanus shots being sent to Haiti are not the type that include protection against diphtheria and are given to infants in this country, Flotte said. The World Health Organization reported this week that an outbreak of the respiratory disease has hit the capital Port-au-Prince.
Like tetanus, diphtheria is an infection rarely seen in developed countries like the United States. But people in Haiti are especially vulnerable to the diseases, living in crowded camps without adequate sanitation. Traumatic injuries soon after the earthquake have been followed by deadly infections, as this Globe story explains.
MassBiologics, whose tetanus vaccine donation is worth about $7 million, develops drugs and vaccines to meet public health threats. It supplies all the tetanus shots for Massachusetts and 20 percent of the nation's supply. Also called Massachusetts Biologic Laboratories, the lab with locations in Jamaica Plain and Mattapan became part of UMass in 1997.
About white coat notes
|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor
Elizabeth Comeau, Senior Health Producer