CDC Announces Plans To Allow Physicians To Purchase 3.1 Million Stockpiled Doses of Flu Vaccine
CDC officials on Thursday announced that the agency will make about 3.1 million doses of flu vaccine available for physicians to purchase through pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur, USA Today reports. Sanofi Pasteur -- the vaccine division of Sanofi Aventis, previously known as Aventis Pasteur, which supplied most of the nation's flu vaccine supply this year -- will market the doses.
Physicians who purchase vaccines will be allowed to return any unused doses for a refund (Manning, USA Today, 1/28). Physicians who order directly from Sanofi Pasteur will pay $8.12, $10.50 or $10.76 per dose, depending on the packaging of the vaccine, according to company spokesperson Len Lavenda (Shelton, Orlando Sentinel, 1/28).
CDC Director Julie Gerberding said Sanofi will give the government credit toward next year's flu vaccine order for each of the 3.1 million doses sold to doctors. Agency officials also advised states to lift vaccine eligibility guidelines in areas where there is ample supply and begin offering the 1.3 million doses previously earmarked for the Vaccines for Children Program to anyone who needs them (USA Today, 1/28). At least 20 states have eased restrictions so far.
CDC has not revised its national vaccination distribution guidelines. The current supply of flu vaccine will expire before the end of the flu season, which typically ends in March (Piller, Los Angeles Times, 1/28).
According to the Sentinel, CDC's "willingness to dip into the stockpile ... suggests the government feels the danger has passed" (Orlando Sentinel, 1/28).
However, Gerberding at a news conference said that the flu season could still peak in February. As of mid-January, 24 states had reported "significant outbreaks," the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 1/28). Gerberding said, "These are extraordinary measures being taken" (Levine, Washington Post, 1/28). She added, "What we are dealing with is a national shortage of vaccine, but a supply-and-demand mismatch at the local level" (USA Today, 1/27).
Gerberding said state officials know best how to manage their local supply situations. "The CDC's broad goal in all of this is to try to make the best use of the vaccine doses that we have," Gerberding said (Yee, AP/Long Island Newsday, 1/27).
Jeanne Santoli, CDC associate director for science and immunization, said, "Flu is unpredictable, and we don't think it's the peak of the season yet." She added that it is "not too late to protect" people who have not received a vaccination (Orlando Sentinel, 1/28).
Alan Wasserman, chair of the department of medicine at George Washington University Hospital and president of the GW Medical Faculty Associates, said, "Year after year, we tell [the public] to get (a shot) in October, and now we say it's OK to get in February. You can't keep changing messages" (Washington Post, 1/28).
Gerberding said that it remains unclear whether California-based Chiron -- the company whose flu-vaccine manufacturing license was suspended by British officials in October 2004 because of contamination issues -- would be able to supply the United States with vaccine next year. Chiron was expected to produce about half of the U.S. flu vaccine this year but did not ship any doses (CQ HealthBeat, 1/27).
Federal regulators are working with Chiron to resolve contamination problems, but company officials this week said they can not guarantee the company will produce vaccine for the 2004-2005 season (USA Today, 1/28). Gerberding said, "We have to be prepared for a supply that does not meet our need" (CQ HealthBeat, 1/27).