- The Washington Times - Friday, October 2, 2009

The largest U.S. supplier of seasonal flu vaccines said it is running behind in shipping those vaccines - partly because of the pressure to produce millions of doses of the swine flu vaccine.

The pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur said it has shipped more than half of the 50.5 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine ordered by U.S. health care providers. But the company has sent notices to customers indicating that additional doses may be delayed.

Company spokeswoman Donna Cary said it could be November before some customers get the rest of their orders.

The delay already has forced some doctor’s offices to turn away parents seeking season flu vaccines for their infants and toddlers and caused some public health offices to cancel scheduled community vaccination clinics.

“We understand it does create an inconvenience for some people who wanted to hold their seasonal influenza campaigns earlier,” Miss Cary said. “We apologize for that, but we’re doing everything we can.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sanofi Pasteur had alerted it a while ago that it may need to delay shipments, but the federal agency did not learn the details until Thursday, said spokesman Tom Skinner.

The delay isn’t surprising or a cause for big concern, Mr. Skinner said, because about 70 million of the nation’s expected 114 million doses already have been delivered and vaccinations started unusually early. October is the traditional time when seasonal flu vaccine clinics open.

“Vaccine, while it’s coming out, may not be coming out to some of the providers when they thought they were going to get it,” Mr. Skinner said. But, “it’s coming, and people may have to be patient and persistent in inquiring about when they can get it.”

Sanofi Pasteur, the Swiftwater, Pa.-based vaccines division of the French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis SA, is producing about 45 percent of seasonal influenza vaccine, making it the largest of the country’s five suppliers.

Right now, swine flu is the dominant virus. Even with the production delay, health officials expect plenty of the seasonal flu vaccine to be available by the time the regular flu typically becomes more widespread.

Miss Cary attributed part of the backlog at Sanofi Pasteur to its simultaneous production of 75.5 million doses of H1N1 vaccine for the United States. Also contributing to the delay is the fact that this year’s seasonal flu vaccine includes a strain that develops more slowly in laboratories, she said.

But “everybody who ordered vaccine from us will be getting it,” Miss Cary said.

At the Jefferson City Medical Group, which serves about 70,000 patients in mid-Missouri, the vaccine delay primarily is affecting children younger than 3, who are considered to be a high-risk group for the flu.

The medical group has received just 150 of its 700 doses of preservative-free vaccines, which Missouri law stipulates must be used for children between 6 months and 35 months old. Doctors used the last of those this week and have been told they may have to wait another month to get the rest of their supply, said Cindy Andrews, a nurse who is helping coordinate the clinic’s flu vaccines.

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