- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2003

Federal health officials announced yesterday they have purchased an extra 250,000 doses of influenza vaccine — 100,000 doses for adults and 150,000 doses for children — to help supplement vaccine shortages for high-risk individuals during the flu season.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said the additional vaccine was provided by Aventis Pasteur, one of two biotechnology firms that announced a week ago they had run out of flu vaccine and would not be able to provide more to meet increased demand.

Mr. Thompson said the 100,000 adult doses are expected to arrive this week. He said the 150,000 pediatric doses will not be available until January.

The vaccine shortage has hit the Washington suburbs, with both Fairfax County and Montgomery County reporting Wednesday they had run out of flu vaccine. Meanwhile, Virginia was among the states added yesterday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list of those reporting “widespread” flu outbreaks.

Len Lavenda, spokesman for vaccine maker Aventis Pasteur, said the company realized Dec. 1 it might run out of vaccine and alerted federal officials about that possibility. “We asked them if they wanted us to set aside a reserve inventory, and they said yes,” Mr. Lavenda said in a telephone interview.

He added that the 250,000 doses were included in the 43 million doses of vaccine his company had manufactured and earmarked or distributed.

“We’re working with states to distribute vaccine on the basis of population,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director, at a press briefing at the agency’s Atlanta headquarters.

While Dr. Gerberding has estimated as many as 185 million Americans should be immunized against influenza, she said yesterday that priority for the additional vaccine doses should be given to people older that 65; people with chronic diseases; children between the ages of 6 months and 23 months; and pregnant women in their second and third trimesters.

At a briefing Tuesday, Dr. Gerberding said the CDC expected to acquire additional vaccine from Aventis Pasteur but did not know how much.

She also said then that Chiron, the other firm that made vaccine for U.S. use during this year’s flu season, also had “fewer than 500,000” doses available in Europe to help ease the present U.S. shortage. Chiron said later it has 400,000 doses of vaccine that was manufactured but not sold.

The combined 83 million doses of flu vaccine Chiron and Aventis Pasteur manufactured for the United States proved inadequate after early reports of outbreaks — especially in the West — and predictions this could be a particularly deadly flu season, especially for children.

CDC officials say that in an average year there are 36,000 flu-related deaths in the United States.

Twenty-four states, now including Virginia, have reported widespread flu activity, the CDC said yesterday in its Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report. That is nearly twice the number of states with widespread flu activity reported the previous week.

The CDC defines “widespread” as meaning there are flu outbreaks or increases in flulike illnesses and lab-confirmed influenza samples in at least half of a state.

In the Richmond area yesterday, hospitals were diverting patients to nearby medical centers because of crowding.

District officials said they should have enough flu vaccine after the purchase of an additional 1,000 doses this week.

“We’re in the process of identifying any vaccines at [local] clinics that have not been used to redistribute them where needed,” said Dr. Walter L. Faggett, interim chief medical officer for the District. There have been five confirmed cases of influenza in the District this season, he said.

Reports of individuals with flulike symptoms have tripled in Baltimore in recent weeks, according to city health officials. “We are having a [vaccine] shortage here,” said Baltimore’s health commissioner, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson.

Dr. Gerberding said the A-Fujian H2N3 flu strain accounts for 75 percent of flu activity this year but that strain was not included in the vaccine developed to fight the flu.

Jim McElhatton contributed to this report.

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