August 18, 2009

US Falls Behind On October Swine Flu Shots

A federal official said on Monday that the U.S. would not have nearly as much swine flu vaccines ready by mid-October as predicted, The Associated Press reported.

Health and Human Services spokesman Bill Hall said they would have around 45 million doses instead of the anticipated 120 million, but he stressed that it was only a delay and not a shortage.

"More will arrive rapidly after that, with about 20 million more doses being shipped weekly until the government reaches the full 195 million doses ordered," he said.

Manufacturing issues were blamed for the October shortfall, which will extend by a month efforts to get people at highest risk vaccinated against the new flu strain. Pregnant women, children and health care workers will be first in line, followed by younger adults with flu-risky conditions such as asthma.

Hall said vaccination campaigns are expected to start around Oct. 15 even though they will have to be smaller in scale than originally planned, as the supply trickles in more slowly.

He assured that as soon as the vaccines come in, they would ship them out to the states.

By late July, manufacturers from around the world said they were having serious problems brewing vaccine shots, but the government remained confident in the 120 million-dose figure.

The vaccine's chief ingredient is grown in chicken eggs, and companies were getting 30 percent of usual doses per egg as they do with regular winter flu vaccine.

Health officials are now delivering virus strains to manufacturers that are expected to grow better.

Hall said a more recently discovered problem is a bottleneck in getting vaccine from huge vats into the syringes needed to deliver them. He cited a limited number of those so-called finish-and-fill facilities as the reason behind the delay.

Developing the test needed to make sure doses are at the proper strength before they're cleared for use has also caused setbacks.

However, that problem is only with the swine flu vaccine and not the regular winter flu vaccine. There is ample supply of the seasonal vaccine and many of those inoculations have already begun in parts of the country.

Almost 160 million people are in the groups to get priority for the H1N1 vaccination and health officials don't expect nearly that much demand, especially since, for most people, swine flu appears to be a milder disease than regular flu.

Data shows that only around 40 percent of people recommended to get regular flu vaccine actually do so.


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