Vaccine shortage, delay might change flu strategies

A projected delay and shortage in this year’s supply of influenza vaccine could force some Americans to rethink their flu strategies for the upcoming season. Dr. Paul Glezen, an epidemiologist with the Influenza Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said that individuals considered at-risk should schedule their shots as soon as the vaccine is available. According to Glezen, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that manufacturing problems for one of the flu strains could lead to a delay in vaccine distribution. In addition, the total doses available could be lower than last year. As a result, flu vaccines, typically available in September, might not be widely distributed until after Nov. 15. “Our first priority is taking care of people who are at high risk for complications from the flu and the people who are in close contact with them, namely caregivers and health-care workers,” Glezen said. Groups considered at-risk are seniors ages 65 and older, pregnant women, people with chronic heart and lung diseases such as asthma and people with diabetes, kidney disease or a weakened immune system. While the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice have recommended that high-risk groups get vaccinated, they encourage health care providers, health organizations, companies and others planning to launch organized vaccination campaigns for the general public to delay them. The purpose is to make sure that enough vaccine is available for individuals most susceptible to the flu. “For example, companies that might offer the vaccine to employees in October should delay until November,” Glezen said. Vaccine providers also are being asked to develop contingency plans if a flu vaccine shortage develops. First priority should be given to high-risk individuals and health-care workers. The flu season typically runs from mid-December through early March. Between 70-76 million Americans are considered at-risk for complications from flu.

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