TUESDAY, Oct. 12, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The remaining flu doses that have yet to be shipped will be earmarked specifically to the areas and the people who need them most, according to a joint announcement Tuesday by U.S. health officials and the remaining flu vaccine provider.
"Our overall goal is to target the vaccine to the people who will get the most benefit, and to do it in a way that is fair and equitable to the greatest number of people," Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference.
The U.S. flu vaccine supply for the 2004-2005 season was slashed in half last week when British authorities suspended the manufacturing license of Chiron Corp., one of only two companies supplying the U.S. market for this product.
The other major supplier, Aventis Pasteur, whose company officials attended the joint announcement, had 22.4 million doses still unshipped when Chiron was halted.
Gerberding estimated that 42 million to 50 million people will meet the CDC's high-risk criteria and will request a vaccination. Aventis is producing 55 million doses of shots, 33 million of which have been shipped. There also will be another 1 million doses of FluMist, the intranasal vaccine.
Over the next six to eight weeks, about 14.2 million doses of the unshipped Aventis supply will be allocated to high-priority providers, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and private providers who care for young children. High-risk children, seniors over the age of 65, and Veterans Administration facilities are on the CDC's list of high-priority groups to receive the "first wave" of vaccine, Gerberding said.
"Right now, there are gaps in all regions of the country," Gerberding said. "We will recognize who needs it, and then the second strata of adjustment is where is the need the greatest geographically."
The remaining 8 million doses will be left to the CDC to "move around in ways that serve those at the highest risk," Gerberding said.
The CDC is also mapping the flu county by county to identify the hardest-hit areas earlier than usual. And it will monitor flu drug purchases across the country -- again, to help identify need.
"What we will end up with in a few days is a comprehensive picture of who needs it and where are they, where's the vaccine, and where's the disease so we can use that information to help inform the allocation decisions," Gerberding said.
At present, officials said they didn't know how serious the flu epidemic would be this year.
Meanwhile, the quest for more vaccine continues. U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials visiting Great Britain are still trying to determine if there are any safe doses of Chiron vaccine that can be salvaged, Gerberding reported. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has also contacted all major manufacturers to determine if there are extra doses.
Even if there are, getting them into the United States could be difficult. "There are only two products licensed in the U.S. besides the nasal vaccine, and it's not easy to get unlicensed vaccine into the country to solve the problems this year," Gerberding said.
Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline, the British drug giant, announced that it was in "ongoing discussions" with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to bring its Fluarix vaccine to America.
"The U.S. public health system is reliant upon only two companies to supply injectable flu vaccines for the entire country, making the system vulnerable when disruptions of supply occur," a company statement said. "GlaxoSmithKline would like to provide a long-term solution and have Fluarix licensed in the U.S., thus helping to alleviate future concerns regarding flu vaccine shortages."
Fluarix is licensed in 70 countries.
The CDC has more on the flu.