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CDC Predicts Availability of 75 Million Flu Vaccine Doses

Kate Traynor

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced last week that the supply of influenza vaccine for the 2000-2001 flu season will equal the amount distributed last year. But the vaccine will be available later in the season, and the delay could affect efforts to vaccinate high-risk populations.

During the 1999-2000 flu season, said CDC, about 74 million doses of influenza vaccine were distributed to health care providers in the United States. This season, vaccine manufacturers will produce about 66 million doses, said CDC. The federal agency has pledged to make another 9 million doses available.

Although CDC no longer expects a severe vaccine shortage, the agency characterized the supply and demand situation as "fluid." CDC conceded that answers to some questions about flu vaccine availability may not be known until later in the season.

In April, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) added another group, adults between the ages of 50 and 64, to the list of populations targeted for routine influenza vaccination. According to ACIP, up to 13 million people in this age group are healthy adults who might not otherwise be vaccine candidates. CDC did not address the potential effect that ACIP’s expanded list of vaccinees could have on the vaccine supply.

CDC advised that people with the greatest risk of developing influenza-related complications should receive the first available doses of the vaccine. Health care workers who might spread the flu to high-risk patients should also be vaccinated early, said CDC.

Mass campaigns to vaccinate lower-risk people should be delayed until vaccine coverage of high-risk populations has been ensured, said CDC, though the agency said that low-risk people requesting vaccination "need not be turned away." CDC asked that vaccination campaigns for people in all risk groups continue into December.

Early pneumococcal vaccination of people at risk for bacterial pneumonia was also advised, though CDC stressed that the pneumococcal vaccine does not serve as a substitute for the flu shot.

Concerns about a vaccine shortage came to light this summer, when some vaccine manufacturers reported problems growing one of the three influenza strains expected to predominate this season. In addition, two of the four companies licensed to distribute influenza vaccines in the United States have had problems complying with the government's standards for manufacturing vaccines. The problems have been severe enough to require intervention by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, manufacturer of Flushield, temporarily had to stop vaccine production at the one manufacturing plant. The company has since worked with FDA to resolve the issues of concern. FDA recently reported that the company said it expects to begin distribution of influenza vaccine later this month.

In September, FDA ordered Parkedale Pharmaceuticals Inc. to stop producing its vaccine, Fluogen. At press time, Parkedale officials had not released their response to the extensive list of manufacturing practice deficiencies cited by FDA.

To find out more about influenza and how to prepare for the flu bug's arrival, visit these Web sites: (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)—This site has information about vaccine availability for the 2000-2001 influenza season. It also provides general and epidemiological information about the flu. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)—Is it a cold or the flu? Compare the symptoms and see which is more likely. (Food and Drug Administration)—The FDA discusses safe use of recently approved prescription drugs to treat influenza. (American Lung Association)—This nonprofit organization answers some of patients' frequently asked questions about influenza. (PDF) (National Foundation for Infectious Diseases)—This comprehensive but not overly technical review of influenza was funded by unrestricted educational grants from Pasteur Merieux Connaught, Roche Pharmaceuticals, and GlaxoWellcome Inc. 

Wondering how an influenza pandemic might affect your health system? Check out FluAid , a test version of software created by CDC.