With vaccine plentiful, doctors urged to push flu shots
■ Administering influenza shots during the holiday season and beyond is critical to making use of this year's record-breaking supply.
By Stephanie Stapleton — Posted Dec. 4, 2006
So far, 77 million doses of influenza vaccine have been distributed, and supplies are expected to reach an all-time high, said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials speaking at a Nov. 13 briefing.
To date, manufacturers report to the agency that this year's total ultimately should tally between 110 million and 115 million doses -- at least 27 million more than were distributed in any past season and between 29 million and 34 million more than were available last year.
Doses will continue to reach physicians' offices and other vaccine outlets in the days and weeks ahead, the CDC said.
And to spur vaccination as the flu season progresses, the CDC designated the week after Thanksgiving --Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 -- as National Influenza Vaccination Week.
"National interest in getting a flu vaccination has traditionally tapered off after Thanksgiving," said CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH. "Since flu activity typically does not peak until February or later, November and December are also good times to be vaccinated."
The agency hopes that physicians and others offering vaccine will mark this event by scheduling additional clinics and extending clinic hours. The CDC also is optimistic that since the vaccine week is occurring after Thanksgiving, this event will mean a larger role for mass vaccination at places such as retail locations.
"The good news is that plenty of vaccine will be out there," Dr. Gerberding said.
Distribution hiccups still an issue
The system's continuing challenge, however, is that U.S. distribution has been uneven and that physicians and vaccine providers in certain areas have, as of mid-November, yet to receive all or part of their orders.
According to Dr. Gerberding, manufacturers and distributors have communicated to the agency that they are making every effort to provide partial shipments and to deliver vaccine as quickly as it becomes available.
"But there are still mismatches between the need and the supply in specific parts of the country," she said. "CDC has only a limited capacity to do anything about that, because the vast majority of this vaccine is in the private sector."
The agency has encouraged members of the National Influenza Vaccine Summit, a partnership that includes more than 100 organizational stakeholders from influenza research, production, distribution, public health and medicine, to work together to ascertain where the biggest supply gaps are and to address those needs, she added. The summit is co-sponsored by the American Medical Association and the CDC.
According to Litjen Tan, PhD, the AMA's director of infectious disease, immunology and molecular medicine who spoke at the briefing on behalf of the National Influenza Vaccine Summit, the summit has taken steps in this direction.
It has established an influenza vaccine availability tracking system to assist physicians in locating vaccine sources and has created an online tool kit to assist with post-Thanksgiving vaccination efforts. It also is working with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases to educate consumers in an effort to extend the influenza vaccination season.
The summit is also a strong backer of the upcoming vaccination week.
"We know that there are substantial medical benefits to receiving the vaccine after Thanksgiving and beyond, but it is often mistakenly believed that the only time to get the vaccine is before Thanksgiving," Dr. Tan said. "I think this initiative will be a significant step towards shattering that myth."