- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004


U.S. health officials said they do not expect a flu shot shortage after the largest flu vaccine maker warned that it would hold up millions of doses because several batches were contaminated.

Only about 4 million doses appear to be tainted — not enough to have a major effect on the supply this year, although there may be a delay in making some shots available, officials said Friday.

“This is not a crisis,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta. “We’ll end up having more vaccine doses than we’ve ever had before. Ultimately, all people who need flu vaccine should be able to get their shots.”

On Thursday, Chiron Corp., which supplies half the nation’s flu vaccine, said factory tests had revealed that some batches were tainted and that all 50 million doses that the company was producing would be held up for additional tests to ensure safety.

“We are confident that we’ve identified the root cause,” said John Vavricka, Chiron’s vice president of commercial operations for North America. He refused to say what the contaminant was.

He said that all but 4 million doses had proven pure in testing, but 50 million doses will be retested, causing a delay. Chiron still plans to ship 46 million to 48 million doses by early October, about a month later than usual, plus 2 million more for the federal government’s emergency stockpile, he said.

The stockpile is new this year and will contain 4.5 million doses, Dr. Gerberding said.

Meanwhile, the nation’s other big producer, Aventis Pasteur, reported that federal officials had asked it to make additional vaccine to cover any shortfalls. However, the company is already at capacity and can’t produce more until after November, when existing orders are filled. Aventis expects to ship 52 million doses, 9 million more doses than last year.

Flu shot campaigns usually start in October, a month before the flu season typically begins in the United States. In an average year, flu kills 36,000 people and hospitalizes another 114,000, mostly the elderly.

Last year, the season started early, producing record demand for vaccine and temporary shortages. In the end, some vaccine was left over, and the season was no worse than usual. In the previous two years, there were vaccine shortages for different reasons.

This year, health officials expect demand for vaccine to be strong because of memories of shortages and worries about new flu strains circulating.

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