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Half of U.S. Flu Vaccine Supply to Be Late

50 Million Flu Doses Held Up Due to Contamination of Some Lots
By
WebMD Health News

Aug. 27, 2004 -- Half of the U.S. supply of flu vaccine will arrive a month late, one of the two main flu vaccine suppliers to the U.S. announced yesterday.

Chiron Corp. says during routine inspection of its flu vaccine, Fluvirin, company inspectors found eight lots of vaccine "do not meet product sterility specifications." Translation: Somehow, the vaccine became contaminated. All 4 million doses in these eight vaccine lots are being destroyed.

Only about a million doses of the vaccine had been shipped, and none has yet been given to people. If any of the shipped vaccine turns out to come from contaminated lots, it will be discarded. Chiron still expects to deliver 46 million to 48 million of the 50 million vaccine doses it promised to make this year. Meanwhile, vaccine maker Aventis says it will deliver 50 million doses of its Fluzone vaccine on schedule. So will MedImmune, which is making about 1.5 million doses of its live-virus nasal-spray vaccine, FluMist.

It's not a crisis, says CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH. Gerberding held a news conference today to reassure the public.

"Ultimately, all people who need flu vaccinations will get them," Gerberding said. "Those used to getting their vaccination in early October will see their vaccination delayed. ... We want people to expect a delay, but we don't want people to race out to get to the front of line in the beginning of October. ... Take a deep breath. We have been here before, we have done this before."

Indeed, delays in vaccine production are nothing new. A similar delay happened in 2001, when vaccine supplies weren't shipped until October.

How Much Vaccine Will Americans Use?

It's not clear that the U.S. will come close to using 100 million doses of flu vaccine. In years when there's no flu scare, millions of vaccine doses are thrown away. Even during last year's flu scare, Gerberding says, the U.S. didn't use all of the more than 84 million doses available.

The CDC says some 185 million Americans -- those over 50, kids 6 to 24 months old, people with chronic diseases, health-care workers, and close contacts of these people -- should be sure to get vaccinated. But "nowhere near" that number actually is vaccinated in any given year, Gerberding notes.

Yet flu is a deadly disease. In an average year, flu kills 36,000 people and sends 114,000 to the hospital.

"Last year, 152 kids under 18 died of flu," Gerberding said. "That is a very ominous statistic, and a heart-wrenching tragedy for the families affected. Flu is preventable, and the complications of flu -- even among young children -- can be reduced. Nothing about the Chiron announcement should discourage people or parents from getting the flu vaccine for themselves or for their children. It is lifesaving."

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