WASHINGTON – Maryland health officials said Friday that flu vaccine supplies will not be widely available until the holidays, but they assured residents there should be enough doses for everyone who needs it.
Greg Reed of the state’s Center for Immunization asked for “everyone to exercise patience,” saying early doses of the vaccine may need to be parceled out to those who need it most.
The news follows a meeting this week in which officials with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that a vaccine manufacturer will produce 9 million more doses than originally planned to make up for a possible shortfall. With that extra production, there should be about 75 million doses of vaccine available this winter – about the same amount that was used last flu season.
State and federal officials plan to start the season by targeting those individuals at high-risk for complications from the flu. As more vaccine becomes available later in the year, efforts would focus on vaccinating individuals at lower risk of developing flu complications.
Even with the recommendations, local health officials say that there will have to be some exceptions.
“We see all ages and all income levels,” said Mary Anderson of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. “We don’t turn people away.”
Anderson said Montgomery County immunization clinics should begin mid- November, one month behind schedule and she expects most counties in Maryland to be in the same situation. Montgomery County had not received its vaccine supply for this year, she said.
Reed said local health departments have been working to help private physicians in the state identify high-risk patients and available doses of the vaccine.
“They (local departments) are being the eyes and ears of the community,” said Reed.
The CDC said the peak flu season occurred between January and March over the past 14 years. Last year in Maryland, 56 percent of the flu cases were reported in January.
One health official said the delay in vaccine this year could be interpreted as a blessing. The flu vaccine has its strongest effect for only for to five months, said Mary Novotny of St. Mary’s County Health Department.
“If you get it too early, you’re not fully protected when the flu season hits in January and February,” Novotny said.
St. Mary’s County Health Department announced Wednesday a “very low” supply of the vaccine in the county and that regular flu clinics would not be available until December. The county’s clinics usually start in November.
The largest distribution of doses — about 30 million — will be available by the end of November. Once administered, it generally takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect.
Predicting vaccine need is a dicey business: Last year 80 to 85 million doses of flu vaccine were produced, but only 74 million doses were used and only 63 million doses were used the season before, said officials at this week’s CDC meeting.
Four companies were scheduled to manufacture the flu vaccine this season, but Parkedale Pharmaceuticals announced Wednesday that it will drop production of its version of the vaccine. The announcement came the same day that the Food and Drug Administration disqualified the company from further production until manufacturing issues had been resolved.
The following day, one of the three remaining manufacturers, Aventis Pasteur, said it would produce the additional 9 million vaccine doses.