A federal study will attempt to determine how many more people might die or be hospitalized during this flu season because of the shortage of flu vaccine. Some experts foresee thousands more flu-related deaths than usual.
By Jan. 1, researchers for the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta plan to gather enough mortality and morbidity statistics from around the country to gauge what impact the lack of vaccine might have on fatalities from the influenza virus, which usually peaks during the winter.
"We don't currently have any estimates, and we're working on trying to get those estimates," said William W. Thompson, a CDC epidemiologist overseeing the review. "We estimate there's hospitalization and death rates for people who are vaccinated and those not yet vaccinated, and then we estimate some difference between that number to come up with the relative impact of not having the vaccine."
A Dutch study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that those age 65 or older who got flu shots were 22 percent less likely to die than those who went unvaccinated. The study tracked 26,000 people for seven years. Experts say the results underline the seriousness of this year's shortage in the United States.
Federal health authorities have said that 48 million doses produced at a Liverpool, England, factory owned by Chiron Corp. - about half of the nation's supply of flu vaccine for this season - would be unusable because of contamination problems, which sent authorities scrambling to find additional doses from other suppliers.
Medical studies of past flu seasons have found that about 36,000 people in the United States die annually of flu-related illnesses and that about 114,000 are hospitalized. Recent annual flu death tolls vary from about 15,000 to a record 46,000 in 1998-1999.
Wire services contributed to this article. Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.