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Travellers at risk due to vaccine shortage

A nation-wide shortage of combination hepatitis A and typhoid vaccine has caused some pharmacists to recommend against overseas travel to developing nations in the coming weeks.

Many Australian pharmacies have been out of stock of the hepatitis A and typhoid vaccine Vivaxim for more than a month (since 13 March).

Amanda Fanous, a pharmacist at one of Canberra’s largest pharmacy groups, is not aware of the reasons behind the shortage.

She said that Vivaxim’s manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, was not obliged to provide pharmacies with a reason.

“We have no idea why [the manufacturers] go out of stock – it could be that they don’t make it anymore, it could be a manufacturing issue or they could be out of supply”, she said.

Stocks of alternative vaccines that protect against hepatitis A and typhoid are also running low in the capital.

“Since Vivaxim is a combined vaccine, it is possible to have an individual injection to protect against each disease,” she said. “Unfortunately our supply of the individual vaccines also ran out about two weeks ago (30 March).”

The immunisation branch of the ACT Government’s Communicable Disease Unit was unaware of the shortage and recommended five general practices that specialise in travel medicine.

Of the three practices that have Vivaxim in stock, two are booked out or unable to administer the injections until the beginning of May.

The next supply of Vivaxim is due to arrive in Australia by 26 April.

However, it must be administered at least two weeks before overseas travel to be effective, which means that the shortage may affect people planning to go overseas in the next month.

Ms Fanous warned prospective travellers to “travel at their own risk”.

She said that people heading overseas without the Vivaxim injection would have no protection from hepatitis A or typhoid.

The vaccine shortage could also affect travel insurance claims.

“Most travel insurance requires you to have up-to-date vaccinations or you won’t be covered,” she said.

Ms Fanous advised against travel to countries where there is an increased prevalence of hepatitis A and typhoid.

“I wouldn’t recommend going to places like Africa and South America without up-to-date vaccinations,” she said.

The shortage has already caught prospective travellers unawares.

Breanna Hargraves, 23, plans to travel to Vietnam with her partner in the coming weeks.

She said that her travel plans were almost cancelled after being unable to find a pharmacy that stocked Vivaxim or an alternative option.

“I rang just about every pharmacy in Canberra and none of them had Vivaxin… I thought we weren’t going to be able to travel,” she said.

She did manage to find a pharmacy that had some older stock of an alternative brand that offered similar protection to Vivaxim.

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