Slow delivery of flu vaccine worries some pediatricians

October 19, 2006|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Federal health officials sought to reassure concerned physicians and parents yesterday, saying there would be plenty of flu vaccine available by the end of November to immunize children and adults in time for the season's peak in February.

Many doctors complain that they haven't received any or most of their seasonal flu shots yet, while chain stores have.

Pediatricians say this is especially troublesome for children being vaccinated for the first time. Those children need two doses, spread a month apart, after which they aren't truly immune for two more weeks.

Dr. Jeanne M. Santoli, deputy director of the immunization services division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, addressed the concerns at a news conference, saying vaccine makers have so far supplied 40 million doses to as many physicians and clinics as possible.

She denied that vaccine makers and distributors had favored larger customers with the first shipments.

By the end of this month, Santoli said, 75 million doses should be available, 15 million more doses than at the same time last year.

For all of this flu season, 115 million doses should be available, the most ever.

With vaccine supplies mounting, Santoli said there will be sufficient time to immunize everyone for the peak of flu season in February.

Most of the supplies involve traditional shots. A nasal spray, FluMist, for people ages 5 to 49, is not experiencing supply problems, and all orders are filled as they are made, said a spokeswoman for MedImmune Vaccines Inc., its Gaithersburg manufacturer.

Each year, 200,000 Americans are hospitalized with flu and 36,000 die from it. The virus is transmitted from person to person, especially children, and usually through coughing and sneezing.

The CDC, the federal health agency based in Atlanta, recommends that children 6 months to 5 years old get vaccinated.

Dr. Anne Francis, a pediatrician in Rochester, N.Y., said the delay in receiving vaccines will make it difficult to immunize all young patients, especially in time for holiday vacations, when she said some contract flu during travel.

In past years, Francis' pediatric group received most of its vaccines by the end of September and beginning of October. But so far this year, the group has received just 12 percent of its 3,000-dose order and doesn't expect to get the rest for at least two or three weeks, she said.

That means her group has yet to run flu clinics and will have four to six weeks less time to vaccinate all patients.

"There is adequate vaccine, but it's very late coming, and it will be much more logistically difficult to give it," said Francis, who spoke on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 60,000 pediatricians.

Francis said her practice is using the Internet to keep patients informed of the situation and quickly schedule them for vaccinations once the shots are available.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has advised members to send letters to parents explaining the situation and encouraging them to bring in their children for vaccinations later in the year.

The complaints from doctors mar what had otherwise been a successful effort invigorating flu vaccine production.

Supplies had been low the past two years, after a major manufacturing plant in Great Britain was shut down for contamination problems.

With supplies expected to be larger than ever, federal health officials began early this month urging all Americans to get vaccinated.

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