Illegal Flu Vaccine Seized

by Copyright 2004 NBC10.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. | Nov 24, 2004
Illegal Flu Vaccine Seized Federal agents conducted a raid Monday on a Somers Point home after a cache of flu vaccine was offered for sale to a South Jersey hospital.

The vaccine came into the United States without clearance from the Food and Drug Administration. The investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security executed the raid on the house.

Authorities said that, so far, nobody has been arrested, but the investigation is still ongoing into what one source called an alleged attempt to cash in on the country's flu shot crisis.

"They were coming out with a lot of boxes and then they loaded the cars and off they went," said Bruce Somers, a neighbor about the raid.

The raid took people on Bala Drive by surprise. The federal agents executed a search warrant one the house as part of a criminal probe of smuggling of non-FDA-approved flu shots into the United States.

"They were very nice, very quiet. No problem. All the sudden, all hell broke loose last night," Somers said.

Officials at Shore Memorial Hospital became suspicious and contacted federal and local authorities after a man claiming to represent a business entity came into the hospital a few weeks ago, offering to sell a flu vaccine.

"From the initial contacts, it lit us up like a Christmas tree," said Albert Gutierrez, president of Shore Memorial Hospital.

"To be approached in this manner was inconsistent with business practices across the country," Gutierrez said.

Federal authorities said that around 8,000 doses of a French-made vaccine called Vaccigrip were intercepted and seized as it entered the United States at JFK airport.

A source familiar with the investigation said the vaccine was shipped from France to Saudi Arabia and then to the United States.

The source said that the vaccine doses went a number of days without refrigeration. Administrators at the hospital said that could have caused an infection in anyone receiving the vaccine and jeopardized the public's health.

"Any attempt to cause a mass casualty or clinical outbreak in a region is despicable," Gutierrez said.

Authorities said that there is no cause for alarm because the vaccine was intercepted before it ever got into the hands of the medical community.

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Author: Copyright 2004 by NBC10.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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