N E W Y O R K, Sept. 13 -- Infectious disease specialist Dr. Steven Mostow is worried.
Usually, by this time of year, says Mostow, director and dean of outreach at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, in Denver, hospitals, nursing homes, doctors and visiting nurses in Colorado would have received much of their supply of a million or so flu vaccine doses. But this year, they haven’t.
“This is probably one of the worst delays of flu vaccine I have seen in my 34 years of practice,” Mostow says. “I am afraid the flu is going to hit before enough vaccine becomes available. Tens of thousands of more people across the country might die this year because of the delay.”
All across the nation, health care professionals are bracing for late shipments of the vaccine that protects against the A and B strains of influenza. While some are taking a cross-their-fingers attitude, others, like Mostow, fear the worst: If the vaccine arrives later than the start of flu season, more people will get sick, emergency rooms will become burdened and more people could die.
In response, flu-prevention education programs and contingency plans to help the most vulnerable are kicking into gear across the country.
Difficulty Growing Virus
Flu vaccine production slowed down this year because the four manufacturers of the product in this country experienced difficulty in cultivating the A Panama (H3N2) strain, a new type of virus in the vaccine’s mix. The Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory action against two of the vaccine’s manufacturers, Parkedale Pharmaceuticals, of Rochester, Mich., and Wyeth-Ayerst, of Marietta, Pa., also set production back.
As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is telling the public to expect flu vaccine shipments later than usual this year, and is advising health care professionals to defer mass vaccination programs until mid-November. Many places typically start vaccinating in late September and mid-October. The agency first made the announcement about the delay in late June, but very little has changed in terms of more information since then.