WASHINGTON — Federal health officials sought Wednesday to reassure physicians and parents that enough flu vaccine would be available by the end of November to immunize children and adults in time for the season's peak in February.
Many doctors say they have received few or no seasonal flu shots though chain stores have. This is especially problematic for children being vaccinated for the first time, pediatricians say, because they need two doses, a month apart, after which they aren't truly immune for two more weeks.
Dr. Jeanne M. Santoli, deputy director of the immunization services division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, addressed the concerns at a news conference, saying vaccine makers had supplied 40 million doses to as many physicians and clinics as possible. She said vaccine makers and distributors had not favored larger customers with the first shipments.
By the end of this month, Santoli said, 75 million doses should be available, 25% more than at the same time last year. For this flu season, 115 million doses are expected to be available, the most ever.
Most of the supplies involve traditional shots. A nasal spray, FluMist, for people ages 5 to 49, is not experiencing supply problems, and all orders are filled as they are made, said a spokeswoman for its manufacturer, MedImmune Vaccines Inc. of Gaithersburg, Md.
Each year, 200,000 Americans are hospitalized with the flu and 36,000 die from it.
The virus is transmitted from person to person, especially children, usually through coughing and sneezing.
The CDC recommends that children ages 6 months to 5 years get vaccinated.
The complaints notwithstanding, flu vaccine production recently has been stepped up. Supplies had been low the last two years after contaminations closed a major manufacturing plant in Britain. With supplies expected to be larger than ever, federal health officials began early this month to urge all Americans to get vaccinated.