No Shortage This Time More Than 100 Million Doses of Influenza Vaccine Expected to Be Available

Following several years in which the influenza vaccine wasn’t always readily available to all who wanted it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is assuring the public that the coming flu season will be a different story.

The CDC recently announced that influenza vaccine manufacturers are expecting to produce and distribute more than 100 million doses of flu vaccines in the U.S. between now and early January 2007. Manufacturers have already begun to ship this season’s influenza vaccine, with almost of all of the vaccine expected to be shipped and distributed in October and November.

The vaccine manufacturers and major distributors are implementing policies designed to provide at least some influenza vaccine by the end of October to all health care providers who have ordered it.

“As we’ve learned in the past few years, there is always some uncertainty regarding influenza vaccine supplies and distribution,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director. “It’s often very difficult to predict how much vaccine will be distributed and when, or exactly when influenza vaccine will be available for those who provide it. However, if the manufacturers’ estimates hold, more people than ever before will be able to protect themselves and their loved ones from influenza this year.”

Upward Trend

The statistics, if they hold true, bear Gerberding’s assessment out. Flu vaccine manufacturers report that they expect to produce more than 100 million doses of vaccine for the U.S. market this year. This is at least 17 million more doses than has ever been distributed in the past — the previous high was 83.1 million doses in 2003 — and about 19 million more doses than were distributed last year (81.2 million). According to the information from manufacturers, about 75 million doses will be distributed by the end of October; that number is about 15 million doses more than were distributed by the end of October 2005.

“As our recommendations highlight, there are many people who can benefit from the protection an influenza vaccine can provide, especially health care providers; children between 6 months and 5 years of age; people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease; and people 50 years old and older,” Gerberding said. “Our goal, and the goal of those who provide influenza vaccine, is to use every available dose so that we protect as many people as possible.”

According to Dr. Lance Rodewald, director of CDC’s Immunization Services Division, the agency has been working with influenza vaccine manufacturers and distributors to monitor this season’s vaccine supply and the timing of its distribution. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has successfully worked with the manufacturers to increase both the supply and its diversity and to facilitate early availability.

“When and how much vaccine each health care provider or clinic receives depends on who they ordered from and when they ordered,” said Rodewald. “There are many manufacturers and distributors, each of which has different distribution plans and schedules. We expect that some health care providers and clinics may get or have more influenza vaccine than others in the first month or so, but people will have plenty of opportunities to be vaccinated during October and November, as well as December or later.”

While the best time for vaccination is October and November, before the influenza season typically begins, vaccination can still provide protection in December and later because during most years influenza does not peak until February or later. Since influenza is unpredictable, and different types and strains of influenza circulate throughout the flu season, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that influenza vaccine be offered throughout the flu season, even after influenza has appeared or begun appearing in a community.

Each year in the United States, between 5{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} and 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the population is infected with influenza, about 36,000 people die, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized because of flu complications.

Because influenza viruses are continuously changing, the strains of influenza virus included in the influenza vaccine are re-evaluated each year, and a new vaccine must be formulated for each season.

The vaccine includes three viruses, and each must be grown individually before the three are combined late in the production process. The strains are usually chosen in February, and the vaccine production and preparation process takes about six to eight months. Distribution of influenza vaccine begins as early as August and typically continues throughout November and December.

Who Should Get Vaccinated?

In general, according to the CDC, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year. They are either people who are at high risk of having serious flu complications or people who live with or care for those at high risk for serious complications.

Those at higher risk include children between 6 months and 5 years of age, pregnant women, people age 50 or older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, and people who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.

Most flu vaccines are given by injection, but the nasal-spray vaccine is always an option for healthy people between the ages of 5 and 50 who are not pregnant.
Certain groups of people should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician. These include people with a severe allergy to chicken eggs, people who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past, and people who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously.

Influenza vaccine is not approved for use in children less than 6 months of age. In addition, people who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms lessen.

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