Next season's flu vaccine is a hot item
■ An early rush to order flu vaccine is seen by some as a sign that the word is finally out on the importance of immunization.
By Susan J. Landers — Posted Feb. 27, 2006
Washington -- It was probably easier to get tickets for the Super Bowl than it was Jan. 31 to prebook next season's flu vaccine from Sanofi Pasteur, concluded Mitchell Miller, MD, a family physician in Virginia Beach, Va.
That was the day the firm began its prebooking process, and Dr. Miller, former president of the Medical Society of Virginia, was ready. He assigned one staff person to place his order. But she couldn't get through. When she finally did the next day, all the vaccine -- except for pediatric preservative-free version -- was spoken for. Even the waiting list was full.
Dr. Miller wasn't alone. The scenario was repeated in doctors' offices nationwide. Sanofi received more than 40,000 phone calls in the first 30 minutes alone. Under normal conditions, 1,500 customers call each day.
The rush for vaccine raised concerns that the production and distribution problems that have plagued the annual flu vaccine supply for the past two years could be sticking around for the upcoming season as well.
But there is still the chance to order vaccine for next year from distribution firms. Although their volume of calls is also running well above normal, at least two distributors said that, as of earlier this month, they still were accepting orders.
Although the ordering rush proved frustrating for many, others stepped back for the big picture and found reasons for optimism. "We see this unprecedented early demand as proof of the public's growing awareness of the importance of obtaining vaccination for influenza," said Mitchel C. Rothholz, RPh, a member of the executive committee of the National Influenza Summit, an initiative co-sponsored by the AMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We recognize that not all providers were able to prebook with Sanofi, but we are encouraged that an estimated 120 million doses of influenza vaccine -- the greatest number of doses in our country's history -- are expected to be available for the 2006-2007 season," Dr. Rothholz said.
In addition to Sanofi Pasteur, which plans to produce 50 million doses of vaccine, Chiron will have 40 million doses available, and GlaxoSmithKline, another 20 million doses. Medimmune also is anticipating manufacturing 3 million to 4 million doses of the nasal version of the vaccine, and another injectable vaccine by GSK and ID Biomedical, which recently joined forces, is expected to be reviewed soon by the Food and Drug Administration and could be available for the coming season.
Physicians and others are being cautioned to split vaccine orders among distributors to ensure that they can get at least some vaccine should one manufacturer encounter production problems, as was the case with Chiron for the 20004-05 flu season.
Get that shot
The AMA also applauded Feb. 9 CDC recommendations intended to improve vaccination rates among health care workers. "America's health care professionals are the front line in the fight against communicable illnesses," said AMA Trustee Ardis D. Hoven, MD. "When health care professionals get the flu vaccine they protect not just themselves, but also their patients and loved ones."
The CDC recommended that facilities offer flu vaccine annually to all eligible personnel, including students. Free vaccine should be offered at the workplace, during all shifts. Hospitals also should educate to combat fears and misconceptions about influenza and influenza vaccines, issue reminders to staff and have leadership set an example by getting vaccinated.
It also was recommended that facilities obtain signed forms from staff who decline vaccination for reasons other than medical to enable better monitoring of employee concerns and barriers to vaccination.
The CDC has recommended since 1984 that all health care personnel be vaccinated annually against influenza. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations is considering adding a new standard that would require hospitals and other accredited facilities to offer influenza vaccinations to staff, volunteers and licensed independent practitioners with close patient contact.