U.S. Meeting Demand For Flu Shots... So Far

Mild start to season, lack of demand easing potential problems, officials say

THURSDAY, Dec. 16, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Most states have enough flu vaccine to meet demand so far this year, federal officials reported Thursday, and one of the reasons is that even those in the high risk category have been reluctant to get inoculated.

"About half of people in high-risk groups have not gone out to get vaccinated," Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference at CDC headquarters in Atlanta. "They are stepping aside and that is not what we want them to be doing," Gerberding said. "We still have doses and there's still time to be vaccinated."

"Overall in the priority groups, about 34 percent have been vaccinated, which is lower than we would have seen at mid flu season last year, so we are seeing the impact of the shortage," she added.

As a result, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet Friday to decide if it should broaden the pool of people eligible for a vaccine.

Currently, shots are being restricted to high-priority groups, including people over the age of 65, adults with chronic illnesses, and children aged 6 months to 23 months.

"There still is flu vaccine, so if you are in a priority group, don't give up. Check with your physician or with health officials," Gerberding added. "We're doing everything we can to meet demand as quickly as possible."

The lack of vaccine shortages may be because the flu season is off to a slow start in most parts of the country. In addition, many high-risk people -- such as the elderly or chronically ill -- who are eligible for a shot haven't tried to get one, according to reports in the Dec. 17 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC publication.

Because of bacterial contamination at a manufacturing plant owned by one of two suppliers of the U.S. flu vaccine, only about 65 million doses of vaccine are available this season, including a nasal vaccine that is safe for people between the ages of 5 and 49 who don't have any major health problems.

The effects of the shortage have been tempered by the slow start to the flu season, with some states reporting no activity at all, Gerberding said. New York state is one area with widespread flu activity. However, that picture could change swiftly.

"The flu is unpredictable, and the most common time for it to peak is February so we're not out of the woods yet," Gerberding said.

Data from 49 states indicated that 82 percent have sufficient vaccine supplies to meet demand this year -- demand meaning people who are coming forward and requesting shots, Gerberding said.

So far, 21 million doses of vaccine have been distributed since the shortage was announced in October. There are still 3.5 million doses of licensed Aventis vaccine to come this season. In addition, federal officials recently negotiated the purchase of 1.2 million additional doses from GlaxoSmithKline that will be made available under an investigational new drug protocol. This supply is being set aside until the Aventis supply is used up, Gerberding said.

An additional 2.8 million doses of vaccine are available for purchase in the future. "If we need it, it's there. If we don't need it, we won't purchase it," Gerberding said.

A national survey done by the Harvard School of Public Health and appearing in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that 63 percent of adults 65 and older and 46 percent of chronically ill adults who tried to get the vaccine succeeded. Thirty-seven percent of adults over 65 and 54 percent of chronically ill adults were unable to get the vaccine when they tried to get it. Sixty percent of these high-risk adults said they did not even try to get inoculated during the past three months because of publicity surrounding the vaccine shortage.

On a more positive note, 37 percent of children aged 6 months to 23 months having gotten vaccinated this year -- the first year young children have appeared on the recommended list. "We are considering this a very excellent coverage rate for the first year out," Gerberding said.

Health officials are asking private providers -- such as doctors -- with surplus vaccines to contact their state health department so those doses can be redistributed to areas that might need them. In a few cases, states have indicated a surplus of vaccine and are broadening their recommendations of who is eligible for a shot, Gerberding said.

More information

To learn more about the flu and the current shortage, visit the CDC.

SOURCES: Dec. 16, 2004, press conference with Julie Gerberding, M.D., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Dec. 17, 2004, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
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