Half the nation’s flu vaccine for this season is delayed

Chiron contamination forces more testing

Contamination of some lots of this season’s influenza vaccine has led to a delay in distribution of about half the nation’s supply.

Chiron Corp. of Emeryville, CA, announced "a small number of lots" did not meet sterility specifications, and it would delay releasing its entire vaccine stock while further testing occurred. Chiron expects to deliver 46 million to 48 million doses of vaccine beginning in October.

Aventis Pasteur of Bridgewater, NJ, expects to deliver its supply of about 50 million doses from August to October. MedImmune of Gaithersburg, MD, will deliver about 1.5 million doses of the nasally administered FluMist in October. In all, the supply of flu vaccine this year will be the highest ever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Chiron delay will have a varying impact around the country depending on which manufacturer supplies a hospital. Some communities will need to postpone their influenza campaigns, says CDC director Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH.

What should you do if your vaccine supply comes from Chiron and you want an earlier vaccination of high-risk patients and their health care workers?

"The best thing for the hospital to do is to contact its vaccine distributor and identify how they might best be able to get earlier delivery of vaccine," Gerberding explains. "That’s something that just generally gets worked out on a case-by-case basis. I also know that Aventis is planning to fulfill its commitment to the people who had already ordered vaccine, but it’s going to then do its best to add additional supply to those places that are still waiting for their Chiron."

"At this very moment, people who have ordered the vaccine from Chiron need to look at their immunization program and begin to think about [how to handle the delay]," says William Schaffner, MD, chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, TN, whose own hospital receives its vaccine from Chiron.

Schaffner recommends setting priorities among patients and health care workers, vaccinating the most vulnerable patients and caregivers first.

Gerberding sought to assuage worries about the vaccine supply. "[W]e’re expecting to have enough flu vaccine to assure that everybody who needs vaccination can receive it," she adds.