Record flu vaccine supply expected next season

Jan 26, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – An influenza vaccine conference in Atlanta this week brought predictions of a record supply of flu vaccine next year and talk of extending vaccination recommendations to include children between the ages of 2 and 6.

The meeting also featured discussions about expanding the federal government's role in buying and tracking vaccine in an effort to eliminate shortages and distribution problems, according to federal officials and press reports.

Vaccine manufacturers represented at the meeting predicted they may produce as many as 130 million doses for the 2006-07 season, according to Lola Russell, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokeswoman. That compares with roughly 86 million doses produced for this season.

Sanofi Pasteur estimated next year's production at 50 to 60 million doses, while Chiron Corp. estimated it would provide 40 million, Russell told CIDRAP News.

GlaxoSmithKline, which entered the US market this season, estimated next year's production at 7 million to 9 million doses, but said it might expand to 20 million to 30 million, according to Russell. She said MedImmune, maker of the nasal-spray vaccine FluMist, did not give an estimate.

According to an Associated Press (AP) report, manufacturers cited several factors that warrant increased production: better government reimbursement for shots, signals that federal officials may eventually recommend flu shots for almost everyone, and public fears of avian flu (even though seasonal flu shots would not protect people from avian flu). The record amount of vaccine is 95 million doses, set in 2002-03, the report said.

Figures from Russell add up to between 86 million and 87 million doses of vaccine produced for the current season. The numbers include 63 million doses from Sanofi, slightly less than 15 million from Chiron, 7.5 million from GlaxoSmithKline, and about 1.5 million from MedImmune.

"We don't know how many of the 86 million have been sold," Russell said. "We know that vaccine is available. Chiron said they had 1.3 million available to be sold."

Recent flu seasons have brought varying degrees of vaccine shortages, usually temporary. Most seasons have ended with millions of doses unused. In 2004-05, the supply was drastically reduced by the contamination-related shutdown of a Chiron plant in England, leading to widespread US shortages in the fall. But after millions of healthy people skipped their shots in favor of those in greater need, the season ended with about 3 million doses unsold out of roughly 61 million produced for the US market.

This week's conference was billed as an opportunity to assess flu vaccination efforts during the current season and develop strategies for future seasons, according to the CDC, which sponsored the meeting in cooperation with the American Medical Association.

Reports from the meeting suggest a good possibility that the CDC will include 2- to 6-year-old children in its formal flu vaccination recommendations soon.

"That'll be on the agenda at ACIP," the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, when it meets in February, Russell said. But she couldn't predict how soon the committee might decide.

CDC officials at the meeting said a decision on recommending shots for 2- to 6-year-olds is expected by the end of the year, according to a report published today by the Boston Globe.

Flu shots are currently recommended for various groups at risk for serious flu complications, including people aged 50 and older and toddlers aged 6 to 23 months, plus people in close contact with those groups.

"A lot of people think it makes sense to routinely offer influenza vaccine to more children," the Globe report quoted Dr. Ray Strikas, a CDC flu expert, as saying.

Some studies have suggested that children play a key role in spreading flu to adults and that vaccinating more children would therefore pay big dividends.

In other discussions at the meeting, CDC officials promised to consider expanding the government's role in buying vaccine and tracking its distribution, according to a Jan 25 Boston Globe report.

For this season the CDC bought about 11.5 million doses and then resold many of them to state health departments, the report said. CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding was quoted as saying that because the agency doesn't own the vaccine supply, it can't do a lot to support appropriate distribution.

According to Russell, Gerberding said the CDC is considering various options to remedy that situation, including buying more vaccine, helping to direct early-season vaccine to private physicians and clinics, taking more control over distribution, and expanding vaccination recommendations.

See also:

CDC flu site
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/

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