New worry: Too much flu vaccine

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vaccine shotThis is the first time someone admits that there's too much flu shots manufactured. If you choose to believe everything that media, CDC and administration tell you, then I let you read the article. However, if you believe that too much manufactured vaccine shots means only one thing - mass pressure from media, doctors, administration to make sure that all this vaccine is used (i.e. paid by administrations or the customers, which means that the pharma giants will have their profits secured), then you can skip the article. It's up to you.

Two years ago, a manufacturing glitch led to shortages of flu vaccine in the United States, prompting long lines - and occasionally angry customers - at the few flu-shot clinics that were able to go off as scheduled.

This year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there's potential for a problem of a different sort - too many doses of the vaccine.

"It is quite a turnaround from 2004," said Richard McGarvey, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health. "And I think the concerns on the part of the CDC are legitimate."

CDC officials said last week they were concerned that if production outpaced demand, resulting in the disposal of millions of unused doses, the companies that produce the vaccines each year might cut back in the future - or not produce the vaccines at all.

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That happened in 2002, when 95 million doses - a record at the time - were produced, but about 12 million went unused. One manufacturer quit making the shots after that season.

McGarvey said this year's expected production will be between 110 million and 115 million doses - a new record. If a good number of those doses go unused, there could be a backlash similar to that seen after the 2002 season.

"Think about it as a business person would," McGarvey said. "If I'm making shoes, and I can't sell a million of them, I'm going to think twice about making that many in the future."

In 2004, the expected U.S. supply of about 100 million doses was cut in half when vaccine from an English manufacturer was found to be contaminated. That set off a scramble to inoculate those in high-risk groups with the remaining doses.

It also set off long lines at clinics and, in some cases, near panic amid reports of an expected severe flu season.

At clinics run by the Allegheny County Health Department this year, the experience has been the exact opposite. Spokesman Guillermo Cole said that's a good sign.

"We've seen pretty light turnout, and we usually take that to mean the supply elsewhere is good," Cole said. "In 2004, we were inundated; we got our full order, but we were one of the only agencies in the county that could say that."

Like McGarvey, Cole said the CDC's concerns are genuine.

"I can't say we'd ever see a shortage like we did two years ago - that was a little bit of an aberration - but if the manufacturers cut back, there might be some tight supplies here and there."

The CDC's announcement of a potential surplus conflicted with some reports of vaccine orders that had yet to be filled. McGarvey said he had heard of some similar situations in Pennsylvania this fall, but characterized them as delays.

"It's important to remember that vaccine is still being made and shipped," he said. "We've heard of doctors' offices that haven't received their orders yet. It's small-scale problems like that, rather than widespread shortages."

McGarvey and Cole said their agencies had received their full orders. Linda Werner, director of Ellwood City Hospital's Home Health Agency, said she also had received her order of 3,000 doses for the clinics it runs in Lawrence County.

"We're also seeing the demand we expected," Werner said. "I think the state health department has done a good job of educating people about who should get the injections, and that's translated into a little more interest in getting the shots."

While Warner said she expects to be able to use most of her organization's allotment, the Visiting Nurses Association of Western Pennsylvania is scrambling to make sure its doses are distributed. The Butler-based group received about 4,000 of its 13,000 doses early, but then had to cancel clinics when its shipments stopped in October, said Beth Herold, manager of the VNA's Complete Care Services department.

"We got the remaining 9,000 doses in the first week in November, and even by then, people have stopped thinking about getting flu shots," Herold said. "We're really pushing to let people know that we still have plenty of vaccinations available."

As the CDC discussed its concerns about a surplus, officials there also emphasized that it's not too late to get inoculated. Werner said her agency has clinics through December, and McGarvey and Cole said even a shot taken in early January can still be effective.

"In our area, the flu season starts to build in late January and peaks in February," Cole said. "Interest usually falls off after Thanksgiving, but we would remind people that late November, December and even early January aren't too late for a flu shot."

source - Times Online