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Uncertainties dominate flu vaccine meeting

/ Source: The Associated Press

Uncertainties over vaccine supply and demand dominated a two-day brainstorming session for the upcoming flu season, where public health officials and manufacturers discussed ways to avoid a crisis like last year’s shortage.

So far, only one manufacturer is licensed to provide shots in the United States for the upcoming season.

Two others said Wednesday they are making progress at entering the marketplace — including Chiron Corp., whose contamination problems last fall at a factory in Liverpool, England, left the United States with half as much flu vaccine as anticipated.

Public health officials worry that having to turn away people who showed up for flu shots last year might have left many discouraged and unlikely to seek shots this year — leaving many unprotected against a disease that, in an average year, infects about 82 million people nationwide, hospitalizes 200,000 and kills 36,000.

Uncertainty about how much vaccine will be available adds to a sense of uneasiness, according to many at the meeting, which ended Wednesday.

“We don’t know yet what this year will bring. It will undoubtedly be something that we haven’t thought of yet,” said Dr. Nancy Bennett of the Monroe County Department of Public Health in Rochester, N.Y.

'Stay tuned'

The meeting was organized by the National Influenza Vaccine Summit, a network of flu vaccine makers, distributors and providers sponsored by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association. The group meets every year to create an agenda for the coming flu season.

Ideally, by August four manufacturers will be producing 90 million shots for the U.S. market, said the CDC’s Dr. Stephen Cochi, warning: “Stay tuned.”

Even that best-case scenario wouldn’t protect the more than 180 million at-risk Americans for whom flu shots are recommended, but it would be an improvement over the 61 million shots available this past season.

Chiron hopes to provide about 25 million to 30 million shots for the U.S. market — assuming it wins Food and Drug Administration approval, Peter Galiano, Chiron’s vice president of U.S. sales.

Concerns about a repeat of the past season’s shortage prompted a flood of pre-orders at Sanofi Pasteur, the nation’s leading flu shot provider, and the company said some providers are already on a waiting list for shots that have yet to be produced.

Sanofi expects to make 50 million to 60 million shots.

GlaxoSmithKline is seeking U.S. approval of its Fluarix vaccine, and an FDA inspection of its plant in Dresden, Germany, went well, company official Dr. Vincent Ahonkhai said. U.S. licensing would add about 10 million doses to the market, he said.

MedImmune, which makes the nasal-spray vaccine FluMist, expects to make about 3 million shots, a little more than this past year, said Jeffrey Hackman, marketing vice president.