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In the News

Flu Vaccine Supply Outlook

By Dr. Victor Gong, Medical Director of 75th St. & 126th St. Medical, Ocean Pines Medical & Doctors Weight Control & Wellness centers, Ocean City, MD.

Although the vaccine supply should be ample this year 2005, with 71 million to 97 million doses, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention expects some shots to be delayed. The memories of long lines of elderly patients waiting for that precious flu shot seems only a short time ago.

The flu vaccine supply has become a major public health concern. The United States lost nearly half its expected supplies last year after the Food and Drug Administration banned distribution of flu shots from the vaccine maker Chiron Corp., whose license was suspended by British regulators because of contamination problems at it plant in England.

The nation's expected flu supply was cut from 100 million doses to 61 million last fall, which caused widespread shortages and long lines at flu clinics.

The Food and Drug Administration gave the go-ahead to one manufacturer of influenza vaccine and moved another one a step closer to entering the market. Glaxo Smith Kline, which provided 4 million flu vaccine doses last season, became the first company to receive full approval for a vaccine through the agency's accelerated approval process- making it more likely that the company would be able to provide supply for this season.

The Glaxo Smith Kline vaccine is already in use in 79 countries, and the company expects to provide 8 million doses for the U.S. Market.

The agency also gave signs of encouragement to Chiron Corp. The company still needed to receive regulatory approval. But they are currently expected to produce 18 million to 26 million doses.

Combined, these two developments bring the total number of confirmed flu vaccine manufacturers up to three total and add momentum to having four producers.

Meanwhile, Sanofi Pasteur intends to produce 60 million doses and started shipping out supplies last month.

The CDC is not asking doctors to ration the FluMist nasal spray, which uses a live virus instead of the inactivated virus used in flu shots. The sprays can be used by healthy people ages 5 to 49, except for pregnant women.

The CDC urged doctors to delay until October 24 giving flu shots to people at lowered risk. The following high priority groups may receive vaccination prior to October 24th:

  • Persons aged 65 years and older
  • Residents of long-term care facilities
  • Persons aged 2-64 yrs with chronic health conditions
  • Children aged 6-23 months
  • Pregnant women
  • Health care personnel who provide direct patient care
  • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children aged < 6 months

People displaced by Hurricane Katrina who are 6 months of age or older and living in crowded group settings should also receive the vaccine.

This schedule is designed to allow enough time to protect people who have the most to lose from flu infections. The flu season typically peaks from late December to March. Ten percent to 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year. It kills 36,000 Americans a year and sends 200,000 to the hospital.

Last year, the lack of specific guidance regarding when influenza vaccine could be more widely available caused much confusion and contributed to millions of doses of vaccine being unused & wasted. The CDC has worked to develop a timeframe that make the vaccine available to people at the highest risk of complications and still allow time for providers to effectively plan and deliver vaccine to others in a timely manner.

While supplies to doctors are starting to trickle in, the nightmares of large shortages are not expected this year. Hopefully a milder winter in Delmarva will temper the usual illnesses this winter.

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