CDC plans for unpredictable flu vaccine supply

May 5, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Those deemed at highest risk from influenza should have priority for flu vaccinations this fall, federal health officials said yesterday.

"We want flu shots in their arms first," Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (CDC), told members of Congress, according to several news reports. "If the vaccine comes through as expected, we'll do the rest."

Gerberding's comments reflect the unpredictability of the coming flu season and the US vaccine supply.

Although authorities see progress at Chiron Corp.'s factory in Liverpool, England, it's not clear whether the company will be approved to sell vaccine in the US, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In addition, GlaxoSmithKline is seeking approval for its maiden foray into the US flu vaccine market in a licensing arrangement involving 10 million doses, Reuters news service reported.

US health officials are preparing for a wide range of contingencies, and trying to prepare the public as well.

"The worst-case scenario is we would have somewhere around 53 million doses. The best case would be about 98 million doses," Gerberding said.

About 57 million people got flu shots in the 2004-05 season, leaving about 3 million doses unused, according to the Associated Press (AP). Sanofi-Pasteur is planning to provide 50 million to 60 million doses this fall. In addition, MedImmune Inc. will make about 3 million doses of its nasal spray vaccine, Reuters reported.

People at high risk include those aged 65 years and up, nursing home residents, people with chronic conditions, babies and toddlers up to 2 years old, pregnant women, and healthcare workers with high-risk patients. But not everyone in those groups will want a flu shot. Despite a vaccine shortage in 2004-05, providers gave roughly the same number of flu shots to the high-risk groups as in previous years, the CDC reported previously.

It will be important for people to keep up-to-date on the flu vaccine supply, Gerberding told a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "The message will evolve," she said.

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