Call for elderly and children to be vaccinated first in response to flu vaccine shortage

Just one week after being reassured by corporate and federal officials that the United States would have a record supply of flu vaccine available, the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging reacted sharply today concerning the nation’s pending flu vaccine shortage.

“Older Americans and young children must be placed at the top of the nation’s vaccination priority list,” said Sen. Larry Craig. “Others who should receive the flu vaccine include those with chronic illnesses, those who expect to be pregnant, health care workers and those who are in contact with these groups.”

Craig’s comments came after health officials in England revoked the Chiron Corporation's license to manufacture Fluvirin(R) influenza virus vaccine in its Liverpool facility, preventing the company from releasing any of the vaccine during the 2004-2005 influenza season. Chiron manufactures approximately half the supply of the flu vaccine available in the U.S., and just last week that corporation’s CEO testified before the Aging Committee, indicating then his belief this nation would have plenty of vaccine.

At the hearing federal officials indicated the U.S. would have approximately 100 million doses of flu vaccine available. It appears that there will be just over 50 million doses available – far short of the 83 million doses used last year when the nation ran short.

“This is serious business. Last year 36,000 people died from the flu and another 200,000 were hospitalized,” Craig said. “I would urge U.S. and British scientists and officials to do everything in their power to correct whatever problems that may exist in time to permit shipment of at least some of Chiron's vaccine this year.”

Chiron is one of only two manufacturers of the flu vaccine that can be used by older Americans. An inhalable version of flu vaccine is also available by a third vaccine maker, but it is not recommended for use by those over 50 and right now, only 1 to 2 million doses of that type are available.

“We must ask ourselves why this nation now has just two major flu vaccine makers. Why is that? I believe it is due in part to litigation problems manufacturers face. Congress must address the litigation issue. But that’s not all,” said Sen. Craig (R-Idaho). “We must make sure that this doesn’t happen again, and I believe that we can do that by adopting principles incorporated in the Flu Protection Act of 2004, of which I am a co-sponsor with Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana).”

Craig said the legislation, S. 2038, would encourage an increase in vaccine production capacity by offering a tax credit for companies to invest in the construction or renovation of production facilities and for the production of new and improved vaccines. The legislation also contains provisions to encourage a greater volume of vaccine production, as well as to improve outreach and education about the importance of flu vaccination.

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