WASHINGTON – Maryland health officials, faced with a likely delay in the availability of flu vaccine this fall, said they will target people at greatest risk of developing complications from the bug.
State health officials were careful to say Wednesday that they are not setting any specific plans until they get a better grasp on the scale of the problem — if any.
“We realize we need to be proactive in the event that a shortage does occur, so we can inform the appropriate people in a timely manner,” said Greg Reed of the Maryland Center for Immunizations.
But manufacturers confirmed Wednesday that there have been delays in production of the vaccine — including at least one pharmaceutical firm that has not even started manufacturing the 27 million doses of influenza vaccine it expects to deliver this season.
While there will be delays in the delivery of the vaccine, neither health officials nor government regulators can predict whether that will translate into a shortage of the vaccine this fall.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday they would not know if there would be a shortage for about three to four weeks. The CDC said manufacturers produced as many as 85 million doses of the influenza vaccine last year.
A spokesman for Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories Inc. said Wednesday that the pharmaceutical manufacturer has not started producing its share of this year’s influenza vaccine, which is expected to be about 27 million doses based on last year’s distribution.
Wyeth-Ayerst spokesman Doug Petkus said that before the Marietta, Pa.,- based company can begin production, it must resolve manufacturing issues, which he declined to identify. But Petkus said the company hopes to begin shipping soon.
“We do have the plan to move ahead and provide the same amount of vaccine we produced last year,” Petkus said.
It will take about six weeks to begin shipping the vaccine once production starts, according to Petkus.
An official with Aventis Pasteur, which plans to eventually produce enough vaccine to cover about half of the United States, confirmed Wednesday that the company has experienced delays with manufacturing the influenza vaccine.
But Len Lavenda said the Swiftwater, Pa.,-based company started shipments this week and will continue shipping through the end of November.
Lavenda said Aventis Pasteur experienced delays only because of difficulty growing one of the strains for this year’s vaccine.
Even with the first shipment out, it will be hard to predict who will get their supplies first. Lavenda said supplies are shipped based on customer obligations.
“We are in the process of informing our customers on when they’ll receive their specific shipment,” Lavenda said.
In Maryland, officials said they will try to get vaccinations first for individuals such as those over 65 and those with chronic illnesses, as well as the health-care professionals who may care for those people. Maryland health officials have been talking about how to handle shipment delays since they were notified of the potential problem earlier this year, Reed said.
The two other manufacturers that are producing this year’s vaccine could not be reached for comment Wednesday.