Flu vaccine supply could be tight again next season

Mar 31, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The United States will probably have enough influenza vaccine to meet the demand from people in high-risk groups next season, but it's unclear if there will be enough for everyone who wants a shot, federal health officials said today.

For the 2005-06 season, Sanofi Pasteur and MedImmune expect to make about the same number of doses they made last year—about 61 million—or slightly more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. Given the demand in past years, that should be enough to provide shots for all who face an increased risk of flu complications and want to be immunized, the agency said.

"If additional vaccine becomes available above these levels (e.g., as a result of licensure of one or more additional manufacturers), additional groups can also be targeted for vaccination during the 2005-06 season," the CDC said in the Apr 1 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

After close to half of the nation's expected flu vaccine supply evaporated last fall because of contamination problems at a Chiron Corp. plant in England, the CDC recommended that available doses go first to high-risk groups: people 65 and older, those with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, children aged 6 to 23 months, healthcare workers, people caring for babies younger than 6 months, nursing home residents, and children on chronic aspirin therapy.

British authorities reinstated Chiron's license to make flu vaccine early this month, but it's not known how much vaccine, if any, Chiron will be able to supply to the US market this year, the CDC said. Other manufacturers, including GlaxoSmithKline and ID Biomedical, have expressed interest in obtaining US licenses for their flu vaccines.

The CDC estimated that about 40 million doses of vaccine went to the priority groups this year, with almost 63% of people older than 65 getting a shot. The government has a goal of flu immunization for 90% of elderly people and 60% of other adults at high risk by 2010, which would require about 70 million doses, the agency said.

Because of the uncertainly about next season's supply, the CDC is recommending that buyers of inactivated vaccine make two separate advance requests: one for enough doses to meet the expected demand from priority groups, in case the supply is limited, and another for the amount needed to meet the estimated to total demand.

The agency also recommends that vaccine distributors send partial shipments of inactivated vaccine to all "prebooked" customers early in the season and then send more vaccine later. "This strategy will enable all providers to administer vaccine initially to those persons at high risk, even when supplies are limited," the article says.

The recommendations about vaccine ordering and distribution don't apply to MedImmune's live flu vaccine, which is licensed only for healthy people aged 5 to 49 years and can be ordered in the usual way, officials said.

CDC. Influenza vaccine prebooking and distribution strategies for the 2005-06 influenza season. MMWR 2005 Apr 1;54(12):307-8 [Full text]

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