ANNAPOLIS – Immunization clinics are being cancelled or cut back and Maryland health officials are scrambling for vaccines after Tuesday’s news that one of the nation’s main flu shot suppliers won’t be sending a shipment this year.
Chiron Corp., the British company that produces about half the U.S. flu vaccines, said manufacturing problems canceled shipment of its promised 46 to 48 million doses for this year’s flu season, which typically begins in December.
The U.S. will still receive approximately 54 million doses from Aventis Pasteur Inc., according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
John Hammond, public affairs officer for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the state’s Center for Immunization is still assessing the effect on Maryland.
Last year, Hammond said the state distributed about 100,000 vaccinations.
Llelwyn Grant, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the CDC has urged “healthy Americans to forego or defer their vaccinations” to children between the ages of 6 and 23 months, adults over 65, pregnant women and children with chronic medical conditions or who are on chronic aspirin therapy.
Maryland is expected to follow the CDC’s proposal.
Montgomery County suspended its adult flu vaccine clinic scheduled for the end of October, but will proceed with its clinic for children, scheduled for Monday from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., said Ulder Tillman, county public health officer.
The county is trying to obtain additional doses for its other citizens, she said, “but it is highly unlikely” they will find any.
Montgomery County ordered 2,000 doses from other suppliers this year.
Last year, Tillman said the county distributed about 4,000 flu vaccines, divided evenly between adults and children.
Other Maryland health care agencies aren’t as fortunate.
The University of Maryland Health Center in College Park Wednesday cancelled all flu vaccine appointments and “will not be booking future appointments . . . until further notice.”
“We were caught off guard like the entire U.S. and the CDC,” said Judith Perry, who is in charge of flu vaccine distribution at the university’s health center.
The vaccines were ordered in March, and Perry said she expected the supply from Chiron to arrive Oct. 11. Vaccine manufacturers used the early requests to determine how many doses they needed to produce, which is why other suppliers, including Aventis, only made enough to cover their orders, she said.
“The reality is there’s no way Aventis can make up the difference,” Perry said. “It takes months to produce vaccines.”
Perry and other health officials are recommending people look for alternatives to the injected vaccine.
One of those alternatives, FluMist, a nasal spray flu vaccine, is produced in Gaithersburg by MedImmune Inc. It is recommended for healthy people between ages 5 and 49.
One of FluMist’s drawbacks, said Joseph Garner, director of infectious diseases at New Britain General Hospital in Connecticut, is that it’s not recommended for people over 50 years old. That means it fails to cover “the people flu vaccines are typically used for.”
FluMist uses a live form of influenza, while the injected vaccine uses a killed strain, said Jamie Lacey, MedImmune public relations director, so the government discourages people outside the recommended age range from using FluMist.
MedImmune also discourages its product’s use by pregnant women and patients with chronic underlying medical conditions.
MedImmune is conducting additional trials to examine the effects the spray can have on young children and older adults, Lacey said.
MedImmune produced approximately 1 million doses of the nasal spray flu vaccine for the upcoming influenza season. Last year, the company manufactured about 4 million doses, but only sold 400,000.
Lacey said the company would like to produce more, but flu vaccines can take up to a year to manufacture.
“We’re evaluating if we can finish additional doses with the (extra) bulk material we have,” she said.
FluMist is as effective as the injected vaccine, Garner said. However, he said MedImmune didn’t sell as much as it produced because “people are reluctant to accept something that is new,” and last year it cost about three times as much as the conventional vaccine.
The cost of FluMist was reduced from $46 to $16 this year. Injections cost about the same amount.
Capital News Service reporter Linda Nishida contributed to this story. – 30 – CNS-10-6-04