WASHINGTON – Flu season is upon us, but many health clinics say they have not received their vaccine shipments yet.
While shortages proved to be a problem last year, however, state officials and pharmaceutical companies are assuring the public this year that vaccine will be available.
It may just arrive a little later than normal and it just may take a couple months before all the orders are filled, they say.
State epidemiologist Greg Reed said that while all the vaccine is typically delivered by the end of October, the bulk of this year’s doses are not expected to arrive until November. But officials said it will arrive.
“We did not have any problems in production this year,” said Len Lavenda, spokesman for Aventis Pasteur, the country’s largest flu vaccine manufacturers. “This year had gone perfectly.”
In the meantime, Maryland’s Department of Mental Health and Hygiene and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending that people over age 65 and those with chronic medical conditions get in line first.
“We’ve asked most clinics, during the month of October, to only vaccinate high-risk patients,” Reed said.
But public health departments said they cannot treat high-risk individuals if they don’t have vaccine to treat them with.
Sheree Mallory, an immunization outreach worker at Harford County Health Department, said it has not received any vaccine. Harford is scheduled to begin vaccinations Nov. 1. Mallory said the county would vaccinate as long as it has doses available; it ran out last year.
Patricia Sullivan, public information officer for Prince George’s County Health Department, said officials there have not received vaccine doses either. The county is supposed to have all of its doses from its supplier, Wyeth-Ayerst, by the end of October.
Howard County Health Department nursing director Vicki Duke said her county has received “about one-half to two-thirds” of its 5,700-dose vaccine order. But she said she loaned some doses to nursing homes in the county that had not yet received their vaccine shipments.
Reed said the need and supply of vaccine doses is hard to track because flu is not a reportable disease and because private physicians “do the bulk of immunizations.”
He said the state is working to provide a toll-free number where people can get information about flu clinics throughout the state. Outreach counselors at 1-800-492-5811 can help people locate clinics at public facilities in their area, like grocery stores and malls.
Aventis Pasteur, which will produce a little over half of the country’s 80 million doses this year, said it expected to ship at least 25 percent of its orders by mid-October. Lavenda said smaller distributors received their total order, while larger distributors should have the rest of their orders by December.
But shipments of flu vaccinations from the other U.S. producer, Wyeth- Ayerst, are delayed this year. The company expected to send out the first doses last week, said spokesman Douglas Petkus.
Petkus said the majority of the doses would be shipped in November, with the last few in the first weeks of December. He attributed the delay to problems culturing one A-strain of the virus used to produce the vaccine.
Duke said manufactures wait until they know what strains of the virus are causing illness for the season before they culture the vaccine. She said this causes the delay, along with the process of getting the Food and Drug administration to approve the vaccine.
Wyeth-Ayerst historically has supplied about one third of the country’s flu vaccine, shipping about 24 million doses last year, but Petkus said it will not ship as much this year.
The only other flu vaccine supplier, Evans Vaccines Ltd., is located in England.