Officials: Pediatrician gave old vaccines

February 13, 2008 8:56:32 PM PST
Health officials in New Jersey have issued a vaccine advisory to patients of a particular pediatrician who practices in Toms River.

If your child was vaccinated in the office of Dr. Jose Romillo, he or she needs to be vaccinated again.

Reports say Romillo's license has been suspended for, among other things, using vaccine that had already expired.

Employees of the doctor have also told the state board of medical examiners that he saw patients while he was drunk, and once fired a gun in his office.

We spoke with a professor of pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University. He says giving a child an expired vaccine is actually difficult to do because of what federal laws require.

"You're obliged, every time you give an immunization, to write down the lot number of the vaccine and to write down the expiration date of the vaccine. That's federal law," said Dr. Gary Emmett.

So the doctor, nurse or whoever is administering the shot would have to write down the wrong date. "It's hard to do. You almost have to do it on purpose," said Emmett.

The good news is that an expired vaccine cannot itself hurt you. The vaccine just won't work.

"Live viruses, like measles or chicken-pox, simply cease to work and don't become anything bad. Kill vaccines weren't alive to start with, so they can't cause any harm," he said.

But children who have gotten expired vaccines should get re-vaccinated to make sure they're not vulnerable to certain viruses. That could mean getting a lot of shots, but Dr. Emmett says the shots are worth it.

"If you're doing something that doesn't protect a child against disease, it's not just that child. It's everyone. Vaccines work because individually they're about 85 to 95 percent effective. But when you vaccinate everybody, that's what we call 'herd immunity.' That's what saves the world from disease," he said.

Dr. Emmett says compared to 10 years ago vaccines today have a much shorter shelf-life. That's because the preservatives were taken out of them after parents and some advocacy groups raised concerns about them.