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Flu vaccine reallocation set by federal health officials

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Oct. 13--One week after announcing its flu vaccine supplies had been cut in half, federal health officials said Tuesday that they are directing more than 22 million remaining doses to those most at risk of complications and death from the disease.

The reallocation means that the state of California -- and local health departments that rely on the state to supply vaccine for their low-cost flu shot clinics -- will likely get at least some supplies this year. Exactly when they will be shipped, however, is unclear.

Dr. Howard Backer, immunization chief at the state Department of Health Services, said he expects vaccine will trickle into the state over the next few weeks and even months.

"It's important to remember the vaccination season extends to the holidays and beyond, and it can go anytime up to and into the peak of influenza period," he said. "Even if we don't get our vaccine until November, we have plenty of time to run clinics."

One of only two major manufacturers of injectable flu vaccine, Chiron Corp., announced Oct. 5 that it would not ship any of its 48 million doses because British health authorities closed the company's Liverpool plant due to contamination problems.

The doses now to be reallocated, from Aventis Pasteur, represent less than half the nation's supply for the coming flu season. Aventis has already shipped 30 million doses.

Also on Tuesday, Chiron, based in Emeryville, received a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York requesting certain documents and materials related to its Fluvirin influenza vaccine. The subpoena also seeks information on the suspension of Chiron's license to manufacture Fluvirin, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In its filing, the company said it would cooperate with the investigation.

In a joint news conference Tuesday, Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Aventis U.S. President Damian Braga described a two-phase plan to ship all pending Aventis vaccine orders to those customers whose patients fall into one of the high-risk categories. Remaining vaccine will be used to fill any lingering gaps.

Braga explained that of the 22.4 million doses remaining, 14.2 million represent pending customer orders. Of those, he said, 11.8 million were designated for groups at greatest risk of complications from influenza and will be shipped over the next few weeks as planned. Vowing not to break existing contracts, Aventis is asking its buyers of the remaining 2.4 million to reassess their anticipated need in light of the shortage.

Unneeded vaccine will be added to remaining supplies -- 8.2 million -- to be shipped at a later date to other high-need areas identified by state and local health departments.

"We need to remember this is a work in progress, and as new needs emerge or we find excess vaccine, we have the best possibility to target the vaccine to the people that need it most," Gerberding said.

Under the plan, it is not clear when California would receive vaccine supplies, but Gerberding said some state government programs left high and dry because they bought shots exclusively from Chiron should get about half of the doses they originally ordered.

The state of California ordered 573,500 doses from Chiron for distribution to local health departments for low-income people age 60 and older and for anyone under 60 with a chronic health condition.

Chiron's shutdown has forced every county health department in the region to cancel its planned low-cost flu shot clinics.

Dr. Glennah Trochet, Sacramento County health officer, said she is hopeful the county will get some of the 6,500 shots it expected for people at greatest risk.

"We don't know how much will be allocated to California or how the state Department of Health Services will reallocate that to health departments," she said.

In the wake of the announced shortage, the CDC last week asked all health-care providers to voluntarily withhold shots from those who do not fit strict definitions of high-risk individuals.

Those who meet the CDC definition are children age 6-23 months, adults 65 and older, people 2-64 years old with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, nursing home and long-term care facility residents, children on chronic aspirin therapy, health-care workers with direct patient contact, out-of-home caregivers, and household contacts of children younger than 6 months.

To give doctors and other providers a reason to deny patients a shot, the state of California on Friday ordered health-care providers to follow the CDC guidelines.

Cathy Marquez, a 64-year-old Sacramento woman with arthritis and asthma, said Tuesday she has called her doctor every other day looking for a flu shot, with no luck. "I have been getting them for 40 years," she said. "If you get a shot, you might get sick, but not as sick."

Bee news services contributed to this report.


--Contact your own physician or health provider.

--Check for scheduled clinics by zip code location. Officials caution people to call the day of the planned clinic to see if it still will be held. Shots will be limited to those at highest health risk from the flu.

--Veterans enrolled in the Northern California Health Care System can call (800) 382-8387 or (866) 600-8279.

--Call Sutter VNA, (800) 500-2400, for a list of public clinics. Shots will be limited to those with highest health risk from the flu.

--Kaiser Permanente, at (866) KPFLU11, has flu clinics for Kaiser members only.

--MedClinic patients who meet the CDC criteria can call the MedClinic Flu Hotline: (916) 536-2485.

Source: Bee research


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