In Maryland, state health officials were caught off guard by the news. John Hammond, spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, couldn't say how many doses of flu vaccine the state had on hand. The department, he said, is evaluating the scope of the shortage facing its 24 local health departments.
"It's still way too early to give any kind of assessment on the impact," he said.
Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Baltimore health commissioner, said the city has received 2,000 doses from Aventis and would have received 2,000 more from Chiron to distribute at public health clinics. Though an additional 2,000 doses had been on back-order from Aventis as a precautionary step, he doubts they will be shipped given the increased demand.
Last year, the city ordered 3,000 doses of the flu vaccine, but ran out and had to purchase more.
"We could end up getting all that we need this year, but that's unlikely," Beilenson said.
Yesterday, the Anne Arundel County Health Department canceled all its scheduled flu clinics and said it would come up with a revised plan soon.
"It certainly puts everything in an uproar," said Dr. James King, a pediatrician and vaccine researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Center for Vaccine Development. "I think people have to rethink very carefully how they use their supply of flu vaccine."
Rush of customers
At the flu vaccination table at the Giant supermarket at the corner of Taylor Avenue and Loch Raven Boulevard in Parkville, registered nurses Mary Ann Smulligan and Keisha McElveen said they had a rush of customers after word of the likely shortage hit the news.
"Most people said they were going to get the vaccination anyway, but when they heard that there might be a shortage, they were like, `Hey, I'm going to do this today,'" said McElveen.
One of the customers in line was Michele Bennett, 53, of Parkville, a nurse who has asthma and gets a shot every year to stay healthy.
"Oh, I was so upset when I heard the news," she said. "I know this is one of the first stores in the area to get the vaccine, so I came right over."
But if the head of the CDC, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, could highlight one message, it would be: "Take a deep breath; this is not an emergency. We'll work through this, as we have with other shortages in the past."
Sun staff writers Lynn Anderson and William Patalon III contributed to this article.
Who should get a flu vaccination
Infants from 6 to 23 months old, adults 65 or older
Individuals with chronic medical conditions
Nursing home residents
Children on aspirin therapy
Health care workers who deal with high-risk patients
Anyone who cares for or lives with a baby younger than 6 months old
Flu vaccine shortages expected
Each year there are about 36,000 flu-related deaths, and more than 200,000 patients hospitalized by the virus. The government planned to inoculate up to 100 million Americans this year.
Who makes flu vaccine:
These three companies are licensed to manufacture flu vaccine for the U.S. market
Aventis Pasteur, of Strasbourg, France, is the largest manufacturer. It plans to ship 54 million doses of flu vaccine this year. So far it has shipped 30 million.
Chiron Corp. of Emeryville, Calif., planned to ship 46 million to 48 million doses to the U.S. from its plant in Liverpool, England. In August, officials said they would withhold 4 million doses because of suspected contamination. After British health authorities suspended ChironM-Fs license for 3 months yesterday, the company said it will not ship any more vaccine to the U.S. this year. The company had already shipped about 1 million doses here but they were not released to health agencies and will not be.
MedImmune Vaccines Inc. of Gaithersburg plans to make up to 2 million doses of its nasal-administered FluMist vaccine this year. FluMist is approved only for healthy people 5 to 49 years old.
Sources: Sun research, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention