updated 1/24/2005 1:07:10 PM ET 2005-01-24T18:07:10

States have begun dropping their restrictions on flu shots now that falling demand has led to surpluses, and some health officials want the federal government to take similar action.

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The federal government last month eased its restrictions, imposed when production problems in October cut the flu vaccine supply in half, and allowed shots for adults age 50 and older.

Since then, at least 16 states have lifted all previous restrictions, according to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. The states previously had reserved the vaccine for older adults, infants and people with chronic medical conditions.

Some health officials say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should recommend that restrictions be lifted nationally.

“I’d like to see the door open as widely as possible at this point,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

CDC officials said there are no plans to do that just yet.

“Our major goal is definitely to protect as many folks as we can,” said CDC spokesman Von Roebuck.

After the restrictions were initiated in October, many of the 98 million people in America’s high-risk groups did not get vaccinated, and some states found additional supplies of the vaccine.

That led to surpluses, but the vaccine is only good for one flu season.

“Timing is critical,” Schaffner said. “If we don’t use it now and don’t use it really quickly in the next couple of weeks, basically the influenza vaccination season is over.”

The flu season has been extremely mild so far. As of mid-January, only 10 states have reported widespread activity.

States that have lifted all restrictions include Alaska, California, Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

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