updated 12/24/2003 2:51:04 PM ET 2003-12-24T19:51:04

The government is warning health workers and the public to beware of peddlers of illegal flu vaccine trying to take advantage of current shortages.

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The Food and Drug Administration is investigating attempts to bring unlicensed vaccine into the country and at least one case of someone not licensed to practice medicine giving shots purported to be flu vaccine.

“Reports we’re following up on indicate that the demand is so high that people are apparently willing to obtain the vaccine in any number of ways other than through legitimate channels,” said Steven Masiello, who is overseeing FDA’s investigations. “Demand like this brings out all kinds of charlatans.”

In one case, Washington’s state health department has turned over vials of questionable vaccine to FDA, seeking to verify what was in injections reportedly administered by a counselor. Counselors are not licensed to administer injections; investigation of the worker is ongoing.

In a second case, FDA and Florida health officials stopped an attempt to import flu vaccine not approved for sale in this country.

Purchase from licensed distributors
Florida’s health department alerted FDA after an unlicensed company offered to sell the state half a million vaccine doses, said department spokeswoman Jackie DiPietre. The investigation is continuing so neither agency would identify the company or say if the vaccine appeared real.

To assure that patients receive vaccine certified safe and effective, the FDA urged health care providers to purchase inoculations from reputable distributors.

Patients can’t tell if the shot they receive is legitimate. But FDA urged that they accept vaccination only from a licensed health care provider.

The FDA has licensed three flu vaccines for U.S. use: Shots sold by Aventis Pasteur as Fluzone and Chiron Corp. as Fluvirin, and the nasal spray vaccine FluMist, made by MedImmune Inc.

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