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Headlines: April 3, 2010

by Meg Larkin


            In health news today, millions of H1N1 vaccine doses that were once in high demand may be discarded.  Less than half of the doses of vaccine that the government bought in response to the H1N1 flu pandemic earlier this year have been administered.  About 71.5 million doses of vaccine will be discarded if they are not used before they expire.  Doses that are not already in vials and at risk for expiration will be donated to poor countries that still have a need for the vaccine.  According to the Washington Post, “Between 72 million and 81 million people are estimated to have been immunized [so far].”

            In drug industry news, a federal jury awarded 1.37 million to a former Pfizer employee who claimed she was injured by a virus at her work and then fired for raising safety concerns.  According to the New York Times, “the jury ruled that Pfizer had violated laws protecting free speech and whistle-blowers by retaliating against Ms. McClain, who worked for the company from 1996 through 2005. “  The jury did not reach the factual question of whether Ms. McClain’s injury was caused by a virus at her workplace.   Pfizer is considering ways to reverse the verdict.

            Finally, alarm fatigue has been implicated as a factor in the death of a patient at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston earlier this year.  The patient was found unresponsive on a routine visit by nursing staff.  The crisis alarm in the room had been turned off, and the nursing staff failed to notice other alarms and warnings.  Alarm fatigue occurs when hospital staff become desensitized to the sound of alarms and fail to notice when they go off.  While other factors contributed to the patient’s death, it has called attention to the problem of alarm fatigue, and has led to questions about why bedside crisis alarms come with an off switch.  According to the Boston Globe, “Jeanette Ives Erickson, the hospital’s chief nurse, said yesterday that Mass. General has formed a committee that is reviewing the guidelines for placing patients on monitors in the first place, to see if it is possible to monitor fewer patients and thereby reduce noise and alarm fatigue.”


Meg Larkin is a second year law student at Boston University.  Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns.



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