By LEE BOWMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
October 05, 2005
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 97 million doses of flu vaccine should be available for this season, so long as no production glitches occur.
That's nearly equal to the 100 million shots the government had expected to have on hand for the 2004-05 season, before Chiron Corp. was forced to shut down its plant in England last year due to contamination concerns and cut stocks by nearly half.
With those problems resolved, Chiron officials expect to ship up to 26 million doses to the United States this winter. Another supplier, GlaxoSmithKline, was also recently approved, giving the country four suppliers and a greater chance that stocks won't be disrupted.
Even so, there's some uncertainty about how the season will go.
"Just as we can never predict what the upcoming flu season will look like, we're never 100 percent certain how many doses we will have or the demand for the vaccine," said the CDC director, Dr. Julie Gerberding.
Last year, the flu season was relatively mild and late in arriving. Health officials eventually managed to distribute about 61 million doses, with several million that were never used.
In addition to the very young, the old and those with chronic medical conditions that put them at greater risk of getting the flu, public health officials are pressing to ensure that the vaccine is available to evacuees from Hurricane Katrina who are still living in group shelters.
Officials are also making a big push to vaccinate nursing-home residents and health-care workers.
Dr. Mark McClellan, head of the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said a new rule requires nursing homes that receive federal funds to offer vaccines against the flu and bacterial pneumonia to all residents, unless they have a medical condition that precludes getting the vaccine.
"We want to see at least 90 percent of nursing-home residents get the shots this year," McClellan said. It's estimated that only about two-thirds of the nation's 2 million nursing-home residents get flu shots each season now, and only about 40 percent get the pneumococcal vaccine.
After Oct. 24, when the "priority patients" will have had about a month to get their shots, the CDC says healthy adults and children can join the clinic lines. Officials say that if they wait much later in the year to offer the shots to everyone, demand is likely to lessen and vaccine doses might go to waste.
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- Caused by one of several airborne viruses spread by coughing and sneezing. Typically a winter illness.
- Hits fast and hard. About 75 percent of victims can pinpoint hour of onset. General weakness, headache, chills, widespread muscle ache, dry, hacking cough, nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea.
- Fever of at least 100 Fahrenheit common. Typically, congestion worsens after fever breaks but is less severe than in colds.
- About half of adult flu victims have flushed face and hot, moist skin.
- Lasts two weeks, spread of virus most likely in first week.
- More than 200 viruses cause colds.
- Colds happen year-round, although less common in summer. Spread more readily hand-to-hand than sneezes.
- Local symptoms can start in nose, throat, eyes or chest, and onset is more gradual than with flu. Stuffy or runny nose is common. Coughing is rare, usually associated with congestion. Symptoms generally milder than with flu.
- Fever is rare except in children.
- Lasts two-seven days; symptoms that last longer could be caused by bacterial infection.
(Source: The American Lung Association, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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