- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The 2004-05 flu season is starting slower than last year’s, easing some fears about the nation’s shortage of flu vaccine.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 29 states are reporting influenza cases, but no state is reporting widespread flu activity. So far, no cases have been reported in the District, but cases have been reported in Maryland and Virginia.

“We’re not seeing the widespread activity we were seeing this time last year, but influenza is unpredictable,” Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC, said yesterday. Because of that, she said, she is not making any predictions.

The 2003-04 season started earlier than expected in October, and the early flu deaths of some children suggested it would be severe. Demand for flu shots was great. About 87 million doses of vaccine were available at the start of the season, and nearly all were gone by December.

The United States expected to have 100 million doses of vaccine available this year, but the inventory was slashed to 61 million as a result of contamination found in a British plant of Chiron Corp., one of two firms that make flu vaccine for use in this country.

Dr. Gerberding discussed plans for allocating the remaining 10.3 million doses of flu vaccine that the CDC says are available for use in the United States.

Since the vaccine shortage was first discovered early last month, priority has been given to those considered to be at high risk for flu complications. The list includes children ages 6 months to 23 months, persons ages 65 and older, those ages 2 to 64 with underlying chronic conditions, nursing home residents and pregnant women.

“We want to make sure the remaining doses are distributed in the fairest way they can be. We’re thankful many have stepped aside [and forgone flu shots] … and let the vaccine reallocation process have the best possible outcome,” Dr. Gerberding said. “The CDC has been working very hard to get [vaccine] doses out as quickly as they are produced, and the cooperation we’ve had [from state and local health departments] has been unprecedented.”

Of the vaccine doses remaining, Dr. Gerberding said, 3.1 million will be distributed to states “so they can fulfill 100 percent of their contracts,” whether their vaccine orders had been placed with Chiron or with Aventis Pasteur, the other supplier of flu vaccine in the United States. At this time, Aventis Pasteur is the only vaccine supplier.

In addition, Dr. Gerberding said, over the next two weeks, a total of “7.2 million doses will be apportioned” nationwide. How much vaccine each state receives from that amount, she said, will depend on the number of high-risk persons in the state, the number of doses for high-risk patients each state already has received and “its unmet high-priority needs.”

“Once a state gets its allocation, it will allocate vaccine to individuals and agencies where the need is greatest,” she said. Later, she explained, state health officials will determine where the vaccine goes and that doctors and nursing homes could be among the recipients.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gerberding said, the CDC will “hold back” 1.2 million doses of pediatric flu vaccine, “so we have flexibility if we have an unexpected” need for them in case of outbreaks in children.

Asked whether states reporting flu activity will have a better chance of obtaining vaccine, she said, “If an area is showing accelerated flu activity, we would try to move them to the top of the shipping line.”

Dr. Gerberding said the total high-risk population numbers about 90 million, “but only half of those were vaccinated last year.”

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