CDC Might Recommend Flu Vaccinations for All U.S. Residents
CDC is considering whether to ease guidelines on who should receive a flu shot as the federal government tries to distribute a surplus of five million doses of vaccine, the Washington Post reports.
The surplus comes on the heels of earlier concerns about a shortage after Chiron -- one of two major U.S. suppliers -- in October 2004 announced that it would not ship any doses of the flu vaccine this season because of manufacturing problems (Stein, Washington Post, 1/22).
Already, 17 states announced they would eliminate recommendations reserving vaccine for high-risk patients, such as the elderly, infants and those with chronic diseases, according to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (AP/New York Times, 1/24). CDC issued its national guidelines in October 2004. According to the Post, a CDC survey last week found just 10 states may need additional vaccines (Washington Post, 1/22). Additional supplies requested total about 200,000, far less than the amount the federal government still has in its stockpiles.
Jeanne Santoli of CDC's National Immunization Program said the agency was "exploring all the possible options for trying to get the vaccine used," including lifting the recommendation on vaccine guidelines and initiating a publicity campaign aimed toward doctors and the public to encourage vaccination (Bavley, Knight Ridder/Kansas City Star, 1/22).
Health experts say it will be difficult to generate demand for surplus shots, and doctors and clinics are reluctant to purchase additional doses late in the season to avoid waste. According to the Post, "the confusing situation could have long-term implications for the nation's ability to protect itself against the flu, which claims thousands of lives each year."
A surplus of vaccine could make it more difficult to convince vaccine manufacturers to produce more doses in the future, and U.S. residents could be confused by continually changing recommendations about who should receive the vaccine (Washington Post, 1/22).
Santoli said, "This is a time when the vaccination season is usually over. But this is still a good time to be vaccinated if the disease hasn't peaked in your community" (Knight Ridder/Kansas City Star, 1/22). She added, "Every season we see this, but this year it's particularly concerning because of all the energy people put into targeting vaccine and all the people who stepped aside. We are doing everything we can to get these doses used because we really want to minimize the amount left over."
William Schaffner, a flu researcher at Vanderbilt University, said, "The vaccine we now have was delivered in December and January. That's a little out of sync when most people want to use the vaccine, and that's part of the problem" (Washington Post, 1/22). He added, "Timing is critical. If we don't use it now and don't use it really quickly in the next couple of weeks, basically influenza vaccination season is over" (AP/New York Times, 1/24).