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Department of Health and Human Services
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News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, Oct. 22, 2004

HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

HHS Files Brief in Support of Florida Price Gouging Lawsuit

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Justice today filed a friend of the court brief in support of Florida's lawsuit against a company accused of increasing the price of flu vaccine by more than 900 percent, saying such price gouging is unconscionable and is a threat to public health.

The brief, filed in Broward Circuit Court, supports Attorney General Charlie Crist's lawsuit against Meds-Stat, which is accused of selling vials of flu vaccine to a Kansas City, Kan., pharmacy for $900. Vials typically sell for $63 to $85.

"We are pleased to support Florida's lawsuit against a company that was looking to make a quick buck off of a public health challenge," Secretary Thompson said. "We need the entire nation to work together to ensure that the flu vaccine gets to those who need it most, and our companies need to be good corporate citizens to accomplish that goal."

The brief lays out the public health threat posed by price gouging, including:

  • Price gouging leads to allocation of scarce flu vaccine based on who has the most money and not on who has the most need.
  • Price gouging risks the health of Medicare and Medicaid eligible patients, vulnerable populations most in need of receiving the influenza vaccine.
  • Price gouging may also result in violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, such as tampering with, and counterfeiting of, influenza vaccine.

The brief concludes: "While most Americans have been working to meet the crisis posed by the current vaccine shortage, some unethical individuals have been looking to profit unjustly at the expense of the public's health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services strongly supports Florida's efforts to enjoin the defendant from charging unconscionable prices not reasonably related to the fair market value of pharmaceuticals sold."

Secretary Thompson also stressed that health professionals should not fall prey to price gougers because more vaccine is being shipped across the country each week. Aventis Pasteur is shipping an average of up to 3 million doses of vaccine each week to health care providers throughout the country who serve the high-priority groups recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to receive influenza vaccine during the 2004-2005 season. Last week, flu vaccine was sent to the Veterans Administration, long-term care facilities and acute care hospitals, state public health officials, the Vaccines for Children program, and private providers who care for young children.

Secretary Thompson stressed that the influenza vaccine needs to go to those who are most vulnerable and called on those not in priority groups to forgo a vaccine this year. Those in the priority categories include:

  • all children aged 6-23 months,
  • adults aged 65 years and older,
  • persons aged 2-64 years with underlying chronic medical conditions,
  • all women who will be pregnant during influenza season,
  • residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities,
  • children 6 months-18 years of age on chronic aspirin therapy,
  • health care workers with direct patient care, and
  • out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children aged < 6 months.

Additionally, Secretary Thompson said the supply of 61 million doses of flu vaccine coupled with tens of millions of treatment courses of flu medication puts America in a strong position to keep people safe during the upcoming flu season.

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Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.

Last Revised: October 22, 2004

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