Nov 10, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Scattered shortages of influenza vaccine have occurred this fall in the face of increased demand, but everyone who wants a shot should be able to get one before long, the nation's top disease-control official said today.
At least 71 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed so far, and another 10 million to 12 million will likely be shipped by the end of this month, said Dr Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We might actually end up with the most ever influenza vaccine for the country," she said at a teleconference from Atlanta this afternoon. That could happen if 81 million doses have been distributed by the end of November and production continues into December, as it often does, she explained.
Some clinics and companies have had trouble getting doses, in part because Chiron Corp. has not been able to produce as much or as fast as expected, Gerberding said.
But with distribution continuing, "People still have many opportunities to get vaccine," she said.
Market forces mostly determine the flow of flu vaccine, and the CDC doesn't own much vaccine itself, Gerberding said. However, "We're getting about 800,000 doses of vaccine from Chiron at the end of November" and will use it to alleviate spot shortages, she added.
She also said local health departments are working with healthcare providers to make sure people at highest risk for flu complications can get their shots.
Current flu activity is less than at this time last year, with most states reporting sporadic cases or none at all, Gerberding said.
But demand for vaccine is probably higher than it was last year, though the CDC doesn't have any solid data yet, she reported. The increase may be driven by last year's vaccine shortages and by the current heavy publicity about H5N1 avian flu and the threat of a flu pandemic, she said.
The seasonal flu vaccine would not protect people from a new pandemic strain, but media coverage of the pandemic issue reminds people of the importance of flu and may motivate them to seek vaccination, Gerberding said.
Vaccine doses distributed so far include about 55 million doses from Sanofi Pasteur, 7.5 million from GlaxoSmithKline, 1 million from MedImmune, and 8 million from Chiron, she reported.
"We expect 10 to 12 million more doses by the end of November," including some from Sanofi, MedImmune, and Chiron, she said.
Gerberding said her own mother had called her to ask for advice after she was unable to get a flu shot from her doctor. Gerberding asked if there were any flu cases in the community, and when her mother said no, she advised her to wait until her doctor gets some vaccine, rather than traveling elsewhere to get a shot.
Eventually, President Bush's plan to increase domestic flu vaccine production and spur new production technologies should help eliminate seasonal flu vaccine shortages, Gerberding said. Those proposals are part of the pandemic preparedness strategy announced by Bush last week.
"In the long run the solution is in sight," she said. "We wish we had that solution today; we're sorry that we don't. But this year, unlike last year, we expect many more doses of flu vaccine. Be patient, check with your physician—you may be able to get your shot a little later this month."
Transcript of Nov 10 CDC teleconference