Fearing that a flu vaccine shortage may turn into a glut, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday more people should get shots so the vaccines don’t go to waste.
Many regions have reported that flu vaccine is going unclaimed. Agency officials fear if doses of vaccine go unused, more people will catch the flu and manufacturers will be reluctant to make more doses for next year.
“What we are going to encourage the states to do is to continue to focus their efforts on making sure that we get the high-priority individuals vaccinated,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said.
CDC broadens recommendations
He said there were “large numbers” of high-risk people — such as seniors, babies, pregnant woman and those with chronic disease — who have not yet been vaccinated. Many people reported they had tried but failed to get vaccine, while others heard about long lines at the beginning of the flu season and did not even try to get one.
“There are states out there that have met their demand and we certainly do not want vaccine to go unused,” Skinner said in a telephone interview.
“In those jurisdictions where there are ample supplies of vaccine, we are supporting the efforts of the states to further broaden the recommendation and vaccinate people to make sure that vaccines does not go unused.”
At least 20 states have already lifted all restrictions on who can get flu vaccine, including Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina and others.
Flu season has not yet peaked
There is still plenty of reason to get vaccinated, Skinner said. “Our season has not peaked yet,” he said. “It is not out of the norm for flu to peak in February and as late as March.”
The CDC always struggles to persuade Americans to get vaccinated against influenza, which kills 36,000 people in an average year and puts 200,000 into the hospital.
The agency says an estimated 185 million people are at risk of severe complications from the disease, which tends to produce different and often new strains every year.
But only 80 million or so people get shots, meaning vaccine makers must throw away unsold doses because the vaccine is reformulated every year. Three companies — Chiron Corp., Aventis-Pasteur and MedImmune — make vaccine for the U.S. market.
This year, an effort to get a record 100 million people vaccinated and perhaps encourage more companies to get back into the vaccine-making business fell apart when Chiron lost its British factory license due to contamination.
The CDC issued strict recommendations to states that only those at highest risk of severe complications from flu should get the shots. Lines formed at clinics, grocery stores and elsewhere as mostly elderly patients scrambled to get vaccinated before supplies ran out.
The CDC fears that companies will be frightened by this year’s experience, and will avoid making influenza vaccine.