FRIDAY, Aug. 27, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The U.S. government announced Friday that nearly half of this year's flu vaccine supply will arrive about a month late because some doses may be contaminated.

Despite the delay, health officials said there was little to worry about, and that the vaccine will eventually be available to anyone who needs one.

The delay is because Chiron, Inc., a leading manufacturer of the vaccine, discovered that a small number of doses already made were not sterile. Rather than ship the rest of the vaccine, the company has decided not to ship any until it gets to the bottom of the problem. Chiron's vaccine is called Fluvirin.

"Chiron expects to fix the problem," Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the CDC, said during a press conference. "They believe they have identified exactly what the source of the problem was, and they are aggressively pursuing all steps to insure that they have the safest, effective vaccine for us in time to protect people."

Gerberding noted that delays in delivering the vaccine are nothing new. "This is not a problem that we haven't experienced before. But it is a problem we are staying on top of," she said.

The CDC is still projecting that more doses of flu vaccine will be available this year than ever before. "We are expecting more than 100 million doses this year. Ultimately, all people who need flu vaccine should be able to get their shots and can be protected," Gerberding said.

Chiron plans to manufacture 50 million doses of vaccine. The remaining 50 million doses are made by Aventis Pasteur, which doesn't expect any delays in shipping its vaccine. In addition, MedImmune Inc., the maker of FluMist, an influenza vaccine sprayed into the nose, is planning to make 1 million to 2 million doses.

"We are walking a fine line," Gerberding said. "We want people to expect some delay if they normally receive their vaccine in October. But there is not an expected shortage. We don't need to jump to the conclusion that it is important to worry about access to the vaccine."

"Chiron is committed to protecting people," John Lambert, president of Chiron Vaccines, said in a statement. "In our role as a key supplier of an important public health product, we are working with the FDA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the CDC to meet the projected demand for the upcoming influenza season. We currently expect Fluvirin doses to be available in early October, in time to meet public health needs for this influenza season, and we expect to provide even more Fluvirin doses this season than last season."

"The CDC recommends that people get their flu vaccine as early as possible, typically in October and November," Gerberding said. "December is not too late, and if the flu is still circulating, even in January. It's never too late to get the vaccine."

Gerberding stressed the importance of getting a flu shot if you are over 50, if you have any chronic medical problem or condition that weakens the immune system, or if you expect to be pregnant during flu season. In addition, children 6 to 23 months of age should be vaccinated, as should all health-care workers.

Furthermore, if you come into contact with people at risk for flu, you should also be vaccinated, Gerberding said.

The CDC estimates that more than 180 million people in the U.S. should be vaccinated for influenza, Gerberding said. However, "we have never come anywhere close to vaccinating that number of people," she added.

"The issue is not the ability to protect the people who need vaccination," Gerberding said. This issue is when will the clinics in your community start giving vaccinations, she added.

More information

The American Lung Association can tell you about flu .

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