updated 10/8/2004 6:37:42 PM ET 2004-10-08T22:37:42

The maker of FluMist, a relatively new nasal flu vaccine, said Friday it would nearly double the number of doses it makes to help meet demand caused by a shortage of flu shots.

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The inhaled vaccine is an option for people who do not fall into the high-risk groups who are targeted for the nation’s limited supply of flu shots. FluMist must be given by a health care professional and is approved only for healthy people ages 5-49.

Last year, the nasal vaccine cost two to three times more than the flu shot. But on Friday, a supermarket chain quoted a price that is more competitive with the shot.

In two weeks, Giant Food will offer FluMist at around $30 per dose at pharmacies in 34 of its Virginia stores, according to spokesman Barry Scher. Last fall, Giant sold FluMist for $59.95 per dose. Giant charges $20 for a flu shot, although the cost for shots can vary widely depending on where it’s offered.

Also Friday, some health insurance companies, including Aetna and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield of New York, said they would cover FluMist during the upcoming flu season.

Not for seniors or toddlers
The nasal vaccine is made with a weakened live virus and is not approved for use by the elderly or toddlers, two of the groups that health officials say should be first in line for the limited number of flu shots.

The Food and Drug Administration set age limits for FluMist over concern it could increase the risk of asthma attack in young children and might not be as effective for the elderly as a flu shot.

Gaithersburg, Md.-based MedImmune had only made 1.1 million doses for this flu season, following disappointing sales last year. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked MedImmune to step up production to help cover this year’s flu shot shortage.

The company said it would rely on frozen supplies of vaccine already on hand to produce nearly 1 million more doses. The extra FluMist could be available to the public by late November, said spokeswoman Clarencia Stephen.

MedImmune made 4 million doses of FluMist in 2003, predicting strong demand for the needle-free vaccine. But the limits on those who can use it, difficult storage requirements and a high price led to dismal sales.

The company has slashed its wholesale price from the roughly $46 per dose it charged last year. Wholesale prices this year will be $23.50 for returnable doses and $16 each for nonreturnable doses. The company does not put a suggested retail price on the vaccine, Stephen said.

MedImmune also scrapped a marketing campaign aimed at the general public. It chose to focus instead on persuading doctors to use FluMist while it awaited the release of a new formulation, expected in 2007.

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