updated 12/15/2003 9:53:40 PM ET 2003-12-16T02:53:40

The government on Monday announced the purchase of 375,000 flu shots for adults, scrambling to ease vaccine shortages in what is turning out to be a harsh flu season.

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In addition, the Health and Human Services Department negotiated a deal that will let state and local health departments buy up to 3 million doses of the nasal vaccine FluMist at $20 a dose, less than half the usual price, a spokesman said.

The nation's two producers of flu shots reported earlier this month that they had shipped their entire supply of about 80 million doses, and shortages began as an early and hard-hitting flu season prompted increased demand.

However, Aventis Pasteur had set aside 250,000 doses for the government when it became clear that shortages might develop _ 100,000 for adults, being shipped now, and 150,000 for children, due to arrive next month.

The newest shot purchase, of 375,000 adult doses, comes from Chiron Corp. They were manufactured in Britain but are licensed for sale in the United States. It was not immediately clear how Chiron came up with the additional vaccine, although the company said last week that it was exploring whether "extra production material" could supply more doses.

Now in bulk form, the vaccine is being repackaged into syringes and will arrive next month. The government paid $8 a dose.

Federal health officials want remaining shots to be reserved for the people at highest risk of flu complications _ the elderly, children under 2, pregnant women and anyone with chronic medical conditions.

FluMist, in contrast, is only supposed to be used by healthy people ages 5 to 49. Unlike flu shots, which are made with killed influenza virus, FluMist is made with weakened but live virus.

MedImmune Inc. manufactured 4 million doses and had shipped only about 400,000 by early December, when uproar over the flu prompted renewed interest.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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