(Dow Jones) A Washington, D.C., nonprofit group wants to know why Wall Street bankers are getting vaccines against the new H1N1 flu strain when many Americans are being told to wait.
The nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, is urging U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to begin an immediate investigation into the matter. In a letter Thursday to Sebelius, the group questioned why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control approved distribution of scarce vaccines to firms such as Citigroup Inc. (C), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and JPMorganChase & Co. (JPM).
Vaccines against the new flu strain are in short supply and
should be reserved for those who are most in need of them, CREW said.
It said "it is safe to assume" that the vast majority of employees at
the banks aren't among the five groups identified by the CDC as being
at high risk from the new flu strain--including health-care employees,
infants and children, child-care providers, pregnant women, and adults
with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma and diabetes.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged health officials across the country Thursday to ensure swine-flu vaccine is getting to high-risk groups, after criticism erupted over distribution to some Wall Street firms.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Inc. are among several large New York City employers that got doses of the H1N1 vaccine, which remains in short supply.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the firms were sent doses as part of a plan to reach more high-risk adults, including pregnant women and adults between the ages of 25 and 64 who have medical conditions that put them at risk of complications.
Goldman Sachs has received 200 of 5,400 doses it ordered. A spokeswoman said the firm "will supply it only to employees who qualify based on the requirements laid down by the CDC and Department of Health."
Citigroup spokesman Alex Samuelson said the firm received limited supplies of vaccine and they were being provided "only to employees in high-risk categories as defined by the CDC."
A Morgan Stanley spokeswoman confirmed that the firm received 1,000 doses it ordered. But it has decided to send them to several hospitals in or near New York City after hearing that many hospitals don't have the vaccine yet.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, in his daily briefing with reporters on Thursday, said the CDC director will send letters to states and cities reiterating that vaccines should be going to the high-risk, high-priority groups identified by the CDC.
Asked whether Wall Street firms should have gotten vaccines, Gibbs said the decision was made by local officials and that "if there's somebody that is not in a priority group that is getting the vaccine, that is obviously a problem."
Five firms are producing H1N1 vaccines for the U.S. market: AstraZeneca PLC's (AZN, AZN.LN) MedImmune unit, which is making a nasal spray version; Australia's CSL Ltd. (CSL.AU); GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK, GSK.LN); Novartis AG (NVS, NOVN.VX); and Sanofi-Pasteur, a unit of Sanofi-Aventis SA (SNY, SAN.FR).
U.S. health officials testified Wednesday that 32.3 million doses of the vaccine are available, far short of the 159 million needed to cover all those in the U.S. at high risk from the H1N1 flu.
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