WASHINGTON _ A record 100 million doses of influenza vaccine will be available this year, but that's still 85 million less than what's needed to protect all people at high risk, federal officials told Congress on Tuesday.
"It is a conflict between supply and demand," Dr. Steven Ostroff of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
The hearing, held in conjunction with National Immunization Awareness Week, focused on whether the United States can avoid a repeat of last year's shortages of flu vaccine.
"With news reports of people standing in line for hours to be immunized, many of us questioned for the first time whether we can assume that everyone who needs a vaccine can obtain one," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, chairman of the committee.
Ostroff said that last year's shortage had its roots in the previous year's flu season, when an excess supply of vaccine resulted in about 12 million doses remaining unsold. To compensate, he said, manufacturers lowered the number of doses they prepared last year.
Even though 83 million Americans did receive flu shots lasts year, the highest number ever, more than 36,000 died and another 200,000 were hospitalized.
About 90 percent of those who died were over 65, according to a recent study by the CDC. While flu and pneumonia are the fifth leading cause of death among older Americans, only 60 percent of senior citizens received a vaccination.
"Although this is a higher percentage of influenza vaccination than for other targeted groups, it is still insufficient," Ostroff said. "Additional efforts are needed to ensure that current recommendations for influenza vaccination for all high-risk individuals, those who live in households with high-risk individuals and health care workers that care for these persons are fully implemented."
Others at high risk include very young children and people with certain medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, and diabetes .
"Roll up your sleeves and get vaccinated," Ostroff urged.
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For the first time, the CDC will purchase a stockpile of 4.5 million doses of the vaccine, which will be available in December.
Chiron Corp., a leading manufacturer of the influenza vaccine, assured the committee that production problems reported earlier will not keep it from producing 46 million to 48 million doses as planned.
In August, Chiron announced that a small number of doses were contaminated, causing a delay in releasing the vaccine. Howard Pien, president and chief executive officer, testified that since then Chiron has retested the supply and all doses are safe and will be ready in time for the flu season.
"There is no bad vaccine," Pien said. "We will not release a single dose until we know it is safe." He said Chiron will contribute 2 million doses to the national stockpile.
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