AP/Dallas Morning News Examines ‘Feverish Behavior’ Over U.S. Flu Vaccine Shortage
The AP/Dallas Morning News on Tuesday examined how recent "feverish behavior" exhibited by some U.S. residents seeking the flu vaccine stems partly from a "generalized sense of feeling unprotected," not from actual health risks (Verrengia, AP/Dallas Morning-News, 10/26).
California-based Chiron on Oct. 6 announced that the company, which manufactures half of the U.S. flu vaccine supply, will not ship doses manufactured at its plant in Liverpool, England. The British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency suspended the manufacturing license held by Chiron for the Liverpool facility -- which produces all of the company's flu vaccine -- because of "issues with systems and processes," according to company Chair and CEO Howard Pien.
A weeklong U.S. investigation into the British decision to suspend Chiron's manufacturing license found that none of the flu vaccine made there is safe for use. Prior to the announcement, the United States expected to have 100 million flu vaccine doses for the current season, compared with 87 million last season (California Healthline, 10/25).
U.S. officials have about 61 million doses of vaccine "in the pipeline" -- roughly equivalent to the nation's supply in 2000, according to the AP/Morning News. Meanwhile, there are only about 42.8 million people considered to be at high risk who need antiviral protection, according to University of Rochester infectious disease specialist John Treanor. Additionally, this season's dominant influenza strain seems to be similar to the one that circulated last year, and because more than one-third of U.S. residents were either vaccinated or exposed to it last year, doctors believe that some will have "carry-over immunity" to the virus, the AP/Morning News reports.
David Ropeik, director of risk communication at the Harvard School of Public Health, said, "Not being able to get the shot takes away your control over your health. That sense of being out of control is scary." Experts have advised that people wash their hands frequently and stay home if they become sick to avoid the spread of the virus (AP/Dallas Morning-News, 10/26).
Newsweek in its Nov. 1 issue examined how "normally complacent consumers have lined up by the thousands" to receive a flu shot as "the sense of crisis" about the shortage has spread. As of last week, most of the country "was still a crazy quilt of surplus and scarcity," with states that ordered their supply from Aventis having ample doses and those that relied on Chiron having none, Newsweek reports.
Although there have been reports of price gouging, the "real challenge" for the United States is to "build a reliable system for producing needed vaccines," according to Newsweek. Currently, manufacturers are dissuaded from making vaccine in part because of low profit margins, fickle demand and the need to continually redesign the vaccine to match upcoming strains of virus.
According to Harvard Business School analyst David Cutler, the flu season's total cost in terms of lost productivity at work and medical payments could be $20 billion (Cowley, Newsweek, 11/1).
Several newspapers published additional articles related to the flu vaccine shortage. Headlines appear below.
Detroit Free Press: "Sick of Flu Shot Lines, Some Go To Canada" (Anstett, 10/26).
Salt Lake Tribune: "With Flu Shots Scarce, Antivirals in Spotlight" (Lavine, 10/25).
USA Today: "Suddenly, Flu Shots Are Must Haves" (Rubin, 10/26).
- Wall Street Journal: "Do You Really Need to Get a Flu Shot? Why People Are Getting Mixed Messages" (Parker-Pope, 10/26).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Monday reported on how governments in European countries and Canada manage the market for flu vaccine. The segment includes comments from Daniel Ferotta, epidemiologist with the Texas Department of Health Services; Dr. Arlene King, director of immunization and respiratory infections at the Public Health Agency of Canada; and Klaus Stohr, director of WHO's Global Influenza Program (Wilson, "All Things Considered," NPR, 10/25). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.