Oct 12, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – To cope with the loss of nearly half of the nation's influenza vaccine supply, federal health officials and Aventis Pasteur announced plans today to distribute Aventis's 22.4 million remaining doses to those who need them the most.
"Beginning immediately, about 14.2 million doses of vaccine will be allocated over the next 6-8 weeks through Aventis Pasteur contracts directly to high-priority vaccine providers, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and private providers who care for young children," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a news release.
In a second phase later, about 8.2 million doses will be shipped to "other high-need areas," the CDC said. "This plan will help ensure that vaccine gets to those people who need it the most," CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, said in the release.
The plan follows last week's announcement that about 48 million doses of flu vaccine from Chiron Corp. will not be available this year. The British government shut down Chiron's plant in Liverpool last week and stopped the shipment of doses to the United States because of contamination problems in the plant. The Chiron vaccine would have constituted nearly half of the projected US supply of 100 million doses this year.
Last week the CDC recommended that healthy people from ages 2 through 64 not get flu shots so that the available doses can be saved for the high-risk groups, including the elderly, babies aged 6 to 23 months, people living in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, children on chronic aspirin therapy, and healthcare workers directly caring for patients.
In a news briefing today, Gerberding said the CDC estimates that between 42 million and 50 million people are in the high-risk groups and will request vaccine. "This year we won't be able to get vaccine to all of them. . . . There may be some people who may not be able to get vaccine who really need it."
Because of the shortage, she urged people to take normal precautions against flu and to seek treatment immediately if they get sick. She said the CDC is stockpiling antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) in the hope of using them to blunt the effects of the vaccine shortage.
"We're sorry that people who want vaccine may not be able to get it. We appreciate everyone's help in pulling this together," Gerberding said.
Also in the news briefing, Aventis Pasteur US President Damian Braga said about 15 million of the company's 22.4 million remaining doses have been committed to customers. Of those 15 million, 11.8 million were already scheduled to go to high-risk customers, he said. "We're hoping that with some cooperation from our customers, the actual disruption to our customers will be at a minimum," he added. The company has produced a total of 55.4 million doses this year, he said.
Gerberding said the CDC is "working aggressively to map out where influenza is by county" and also mapping the delivery of doses and need for vaccine by county. "So what we'll end up with in a few days is a comprehensive picture of who needs vaccine and where it is," she said.
Gerberding said the CDC is relying on the "honor code" to enforce compliance with the recommendation that vaccine doses be saved for people in high-risk groups. This has worked in the past, and "so far we have good evidence that it's working this time too," she added.
She noted that a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) team is still in Britain checking to see "if there are any safe doses of vaccine that can be acquired from Chiron at this time."
In other developments, the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) said yesterday it was exploring the possibility of selling its Fluarix flu vaccine in the United States, according to a Reuters report. The vaccine is sold in 70 countries but not in the United States, because the company decided in 1992, when it launched the product, that the US market was overcrowded.
A GSK official told Reuters that the company was talking with the FDA about the possibility of getting approval for the sale of Fluarix this season. But most of the company's supply is already committed to other customers, leaving only around 200,000 doses available for new buyers, the report said.
Oct 12 CDC news release