May 20, 2010
New Help for Haiti
UMMS donates 500,000 doses of life-saving tetanus/diphtheria vaccine
Boston, Mass. — Before some 300 people, including international leaders in public health, UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael F. Collins today announced the Medical School will donate 500,000 doses of tetanus/diphtheria vaccine (Td) to help earthquake victims in Haiti. News of the donation came at the opening ceremonies for a new research and development facility at the Medical School’s MassBiologics laboratories, which makes the Td vaccine and other medicines.
“In the immediate aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, a call for help came and it was quickly answered by a team from our Medical School, including Provost and Dean Terry Flotte, and colleagues from UMass Memorial Health Care, our clinical partner,” Chancellor Collins said. “Dr. Flotte and other team members cared for more than 1,000 patients in Haiti’s capital. In makeshift settings, they treated the young and the old who were afflicted with a variety of health ailments and they identified an incredible unmet need—Tetanus vaccine. It was in short supply then and there continues to be a serious lack of this important therapeutic.”
Because of widespread vaccination, diphtheria and tetanus are not major health threats in the United States. In Haiti, however, many people are not fully immunized and the infections remain a serious and often deadly condition, particularly among children. The bacteria that cause tetanus and diphtheria often live in dirt, rubble and rust, so exposure in an earthquake-ravaged zone is high. And since many Haitians have not been previously vaccinated against the bacteria, tetanus and diphtheria are significant threats.
Upon his return from Haiti, Dr. Flotte and Donna Ambrosino, MD, executive director of MassBiologics, began working on a plan to get Td vaccine to the people in Haiti who needed it.
“Recognizing our unique position to help, Dr. Ambrosino and her colleagues have mobilized MassBiologics to act,” Chancellor Collins said. “Within the FDA-controlled warehouse of this campus are nearly 500,000 doses of the Td vaccine. Today, we are officially setting those aside for the people of Haiti. We will not stand by and watch those who need this life-saving vaccine go without it. Inaction is not in our DNA.”
MassBiologics is the only non-profit, FDA-licensed manufacturer of vaccines and other biologic products in the United States. It produces nearly 30 percent of the country’s Td vaccine supply, providing the vaccine to Massachusetts residents at no charge, with the balance distributed commercially across the United States. The laboratory has the inventory and production capability sufficient to allocate 500,000 doses for Haiti while maintaining continuity of supply for domestic needs. In recent months MassBiologics has partnered with relief organizations and donated several thousand doses of Td vaccine for their work in Haiti. That work will now expand as MassBiologics prepares to make up to 500,000 doses available for immediate use in Haiti.
“UMass Medical School has shown the world the best character of our state," said U.S. Senator John Kerry. "The school’s compassion, dedication and determination are already saving lives and will undoubtedly save many more in the coming weeks.”
MassBiologics traces its roots to 1894 when it was created by the Massachusetts Board of Health to produce diphtheria antitoxin. MassBiologics became a part of UMass Medical School in 1997 and has since expanded its research and manufacturing capabilities.
“This donation is a powerful example of the ways in which we can work together as an institution and with others, to positively impact the health and well-being of vulnerable populations,” Chancellor Collins said. “This is the work of MassBiologics and the mission of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. I am privileged to announce our donation and represent all of my great and dedicated colleagues who have made it possible.”