Flu vaccine shortage now a surplus in some areas
■ Shots are now available to all comers in many states.
By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Feb. 7, 2005
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Deep into the flu season, public health officials in states with excess vaccine supplies have switched gears from trying to convince only a select few to receive the shot to encouraging anyone and everyone to get one.
The United States' expected supplies of injectable influenza vaccine were nearly halved when Chiron Corp. announced in early October 2004 that it would be unable to provide supplies. Public health officials rapidly issued proclamations reserving the vaccine for those who needed it most.
Those recommendations since have been revised because of ample supplies in some areas. The reason for the excess is that many of the people at high risk for serious flu complications didn't even attempt to get a shot. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is either because of their confusion over where to get the flu shot or because they wanted it to go to someone who needed it even more.
One example of the strategy shift is Alaska, where the state lifted all restrictions on the vaccine Jan. 6.
"We now recommend that remaining vaccine doses be used for anyone wishing to receive the immunization," said Richard Mandsager, MD, director of Alaska's Division of Public Health. "We want to use all of our remaining vaccine to ensure as many people as possible are protected from influenza."
The challenge, however, is that this far into the season, vaccine may be low on people's priority lists. In stark contrast to October, when newspapers were filled with tales of long lines for flu shots, some newspapers are now reporting that the vaccine has no takers. Public health officials are concerned that some supplies might not be used.
"It would appear demand for the vaccine from the high-risk population has decreased, leaving unused vaccine throughout the state," said Richard Morrissey, MPH, interim health director of the Kansas Dept. of Health and the Environment. Kansas opened the vaccine to all comers Jan. 13.
But the situation has renewed interest in generating demand for late-season vaccines.
Demand for flu shots traditionally dies after Thanksgiving. Numerous organizations, including the National Influenza Vaccine Summit, co-sponsored by the American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have issued statements attempting to keep interest going strong for a longer time.
"Late-season vaccination is effective," said CDC Director Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH, in the summit's statement. "Ideally, vaccination for those at high risk would have occurred earlier in the season, but the shortage has made it difficult. Many states still have some supply of the vaccine, and I strongly urge unvaccinated people at risk to try once again to obtain a shot."