At least 70 million doses of influenza vaccine will be available for the U.S. market this year and everybody who wants a shot should be able to get one, health officials said Monday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opened flu vaccination to everyone Monday, saying the priority groups, such as seniors, who need the vaccine first had been given plenty of time to get them.
"There is no reason for anyone to delay or go without their annual flu shot," Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt told reporters in a telephone briefing.
Last week the CDC reported that too few Americans are getting their flu shots. An estimated 185 million Americans are considered at high risk of complications including death from influenza.
But only about 65 percent of them get the shots. Last year fewer than 60 million people got flu shots. The American Lung Association said only 40 percent of adults with asthma and 10 percent of children with the disease are immunized although they are considered high risk.
"Seasonal flu kills an average of 36,000 Americans every year. It sends some 200,000 to the hospital," Leavitt said.
"Much of this can be prevented with simple flu shot."
The annual flu vaccine must be formulated fresh every year, and made anew, to match circulating strains. This annual vaccine does not provide any protection against H5N1 avian flu, which in any case is not yet infecting people widely.
Last year, Chiron Corp., suffered contamination problems at its British flu vaccine manufacturing plant and lost its license to sell the jabs. That cost the United States half its anticipated 100 million dose supply for the season, although officials later squeezed a few million more doses out of other suppliers.
Long lines formed at vaccine clinics and people complained they were unable to get vaccines when they wanted them.
This year, Chiron believes it will be able to make somewhat less than 18 million planned doses — but it is not sure how much it will be able to make, CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said.
But Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline and MedImmune, which makes a nasal vaccine, all will have their full production available. Gerberding said Sanofi would have 60 million doses, GlaxoSmithKline would have 8 million and MedImmune would have 3 million.
Flu season usually begins in October and can run into March or April in the Northern Hemisphere. Officials cannot predict how sever a season usually will be.
"In an era during which new and re-emerging diseases, such as the H5N1 avian flu virus, are potential public health threats, Americans should not forget to take the proper precautions to protect their health against the diseases that threaten us today," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, the American Public Health Association's executive director.