Mario Villafuerte  /  Getty Images file
Clenie Roy, 90, grimaces as he gets a flu shot in October in Bossier City, La. Only half of those considered high-risk even tried to get the vaccine this year, officials said.
updated 12/17/2004 12:40:51 PM ET 2004-12-17T17:40:51

As concerns rise that tens of thousands of doses of flu shots could go to waste, federal officials were considering changing their advice on who should get the shot.

A survey indicated only about half those who are at high-risk even tried to get the shot. Now, a mild flu season seems to have lowered demand for the vaccine and several states are reporting a surplus.

A vaccine advisory committee was scheduled to meet Friday to decide whether people not at high risk for flu complications should get the shot.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that three out of four doses of the vaccine this year still went to those most in need.

Two months ago, the government recommended that scarce flu shots be reserved for people most at risk after learning that the nation would only be getting about half the shots that been ordered.

Government may loosen restrictions
Gerberding said she did not think officials overestimated the vaccine shortage.

“We still don’t have enough doses to meet every person’s need. It’s not distributed equally across the states,” Gerberding told NBC’s “Today” on Friday, repeating comments she made a day earlier at CDC headquarters in Atlanta.

“We will perhaps loosen up our recommendations in areas that have a surplus to redistribute the vaccine.”

At the same time, some states don’t have a surplus of vaccine and shortages remain in some areas. Gerberding urged people to call their doctors or state or local health department to find out where they could get a shot.

The problem is that a flu shot is only good for the flu season it is made for. Any excess must be disposed of at the end of the season. The flu season begins in the fall and can last through April.

The medical center at Vanderbilt University said it has vaccinated most of its high-risk patients and still has 3,000 doses left over.

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The surplus already has prompted some states to loosen their immunization restrictions, allowing people as young as 50 to get a shot. Others are considering allowing flu shots for anyone who has close contact with those in a high-risk group.

Building a vaccineThe government in October recommended that healthy adults delay or skip a flu shot this season to save vaccine for the estimated 98 million people in the country who need it most — the elderly, infants or those with chronic conditions. The recommendation was made after health officials learned that nearly half of the country’s flu shot supply would be cut off because of contamination at vaccine maker Chiron Corp.’s plant in Liverpool, England.

Only about 65 million doses of vaccine will be available this season in the United States, including a nasal vaccine that is safe for only healthy people.

A CDC study found that as of last month, only about 35 percent of high-risk adults, mainly senior citizens, had gotten a flu shot. Another CDC study released Thursday found that people at high risk often do not get vaccinated for various reasons, including a misperception that the shot causes influenza and the belief that it would not be easy for them to get the vaccine.

As a result, health officials have been scrambling to find a way to make use of the remaining supply of flu shots — before they go to waste.

“We really have to work hard to get rid of it,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an influenza vaccine expert and head of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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