Flu vaccine makers to produce more doses

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Flu vaccine makers to produce more doses


By ROGER MEZGER Vaccine manufacturers are expected to produce millions more flu shots this year than last, federal health officials say.

But the officials say some shipping delays are still likely, and they are calling for an influenza vaccination strategy that gives priority to the elderly and the chronically ill.

No one foresees a repeat of last year's serious flu vaccine production problems, which delayed shipments for up to two months, according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of experts that helps the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set policy.

Still, about one-third of the estimated 83.7 million doses being produced this year won't leave manufacturing plants until November or early December. Normally, nearly all flu vaccine is shipped by the end of October. The last time that happened was 1999, when 76.8 million doses were shipped.

Last year, shipments topped out at 78 million doses, but most of that was not available until mid-December because manufacturers had trouble producing the vaccine on time.

Only about 26 million doses were shipped by the end of October, leaving doctors without sufficient vaccine to give patients most at risk of coming down with pneumonia and other flu complications. Meanwhile, walk-in clinics at grocery and drug stores offered shots to anyone.

To make sure the first shots go to high-risk people - including the elderly, the chronically ill, pregnant women and health-care workers - the advisory committee is recommending that health departments delay their mass immunization clinics in late October or November and that employers not offer the vaccine to workers until November.

The slight delay should not be a problem, the committee said, as long as the November-to-April flu season does not peak early.

Last winter's mild flu season peaked in early February, giving people vaccinated in late December plenty of time to develop immunity. The vaccine is effective in about two weeks.

The production delay this year is occurring mainly because one manufacturer dropped out of the vaccine business, leaving three U.S.-licensed companies to fill orders, said the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Two bills introduced this year in the U.S. House of Representatives would give the government more say over how the vaccine is distributed. Both bills, the Flu Vaccine Availability Act of 2001 and the Influenza Vaccine Emergency Act, are still in committee.

E-mail: rmezger@plaind.com Phone: 216-999-4446


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 30, 2001

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