More flu vaccine available now than ever before

Flu, anthrax are separate issues, CDC says

A push to increase influenza vaccine capacity has led to a greater supply than ever before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.

About 85 million doses have been manufactured, compared to about 70 million doses last year, says Keiji Fukuda, MD, MPH, medical epidemiologist with CDC’s influenza branch. However, a delay in distribution led to a late start for many hospital-based vaccination campaigns. Fukuda encouraged providers to continue offering vaccines through December and even later. "This year we have a delay situation that is moderate," he says. "Certainly it is less severe than the delay we had last year."

Concern about confusing anthrax symptoms with those of influenza led to a greater demand for the flu vaccine, both among health care workers and the general public. Fukuda sought to separate the influenza vaccine from the anthrax scare, noting that many other viruses cause flu-like symptoms. "Every year there are tens of millions of people who develop flu-like illness — fever, muscle aches, headache," he says. "Those flu-like illnesses are caused by a number of agents. There are still going to be lots and lots of people who develop flu-like illnesses [even with the flu vaccine]."

The delay in distribution of the flu vaccine was largely caused by the decision of Parkedale Pharmaceuticals, in Rochester, MI, to stop producing influenza vaccine for the U.S. market.

However, the production push by the remaining three vaccine manufacturers led to the greater supply, Fukuda says. "We should have plenty of vaccine this year." He acknowledged that some vaccine distributors raised prices in light of the delay this fall. "There are reports of price gouging that has occurred this year. This is a practice that all of us have worked hard to discourage, but it’s a private market out there."

Some employee health professionals reported a greater interest in the flu vaccine among hospital staff. For example, at Sewickley (PA) Valley Hospital, record number of employees received the flu vaccine at the hospital’s annual employee benefits fair. "Even last week, my office was a revolving door" with employees seeking the flu shot, says MaryAnn Gruden, MSN, CRNP, NP-C, COHN-S/CM, employee health nurse practitioner.