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Flu Vaccine Makers Say No More Is Left Early Cases Set Off Rush to Get Shots

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The nation's two makers of flu vaccine said Friday they have run out of the drug as Americans rush to get shots in a worsening flu outbreak.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials across the country, including in Georgia, scrambled to assess how much vaccine is still available and how it could be redistributed to hard-hit areas, if needed.

"CDC is doing everything possible to assess the availability of flu vaccine to identify any locations that have supplies that may be made available to locations that need vaccine," said CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding.

Some states have plans in place to redistribute vaccine supplies if necessary, Gerberding noted. Georgia health officials said they hope to know by Monday how much vaccine remains and where it is.

Some metro area doctors reported shortages Friday.

"People who want to be vaccinated may need to be persistent to find the vaccine," said Richard Quartarone, spokesman for the Division of Public Health of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

He said that if the vaccine is unavailable at their doctor's office, people should contact county health departments, where flu shots are provided for generally $20 or less.

"Before going there, call ahead of time to make sure they have it," he said. If not, a neighboring county might have it. Effectiveness uncertain

Even as the flu outbreaks triggered heavy immunization demand, health officials said they are not certain of the effectiveness of the vaccines, produced by drug companies Chiron and Aventis Pasteur. The strain of influenza implicated around the country differs somewhat from the three strains that this year's vaccine is designed to combat.

Chiron and Aventis said they cannot make more vaccine this year because the process takes four months. By then, the flu season will be over.

To be protected, Quartarone said, it is crucial for people to get the shot now because it usually takes about 10 days for immunity to develop. A concern is that the upcoming holiday travel period has the potential of causing flu to become more widespread as millions of people travel about the country.

A flu shot is recommended particularly for people at high-risk, including those 50 or older; those with chronic heart and lung conditions; health care workers and nursing home residents. The CDC also encourages the shots for children 6 to 23 months old and their immediate family.

CDC officials noted that it is not unusual at this time of year for flu vaccine supplies to be limited as many health departments, doctor's officers and other suppliers wind down their vaccination programs. However, it appears that more people than in recent years received a flu shot in October and November, and that there is unusually high interest in getting flu shots into December.

"The fact that so many Americans have acted on the recommendations to receive a flu shot is encouraging," Gerberding said.

The sudden late demand for vaccinations apparently was triggered by reports of an especially bad flu season, especially for children.

The outbreak has been particularly intense in Colorado, where more than 6,300 people were stricken in the last month and six children under age 16 have died. Colorado is one of 10 states with a widespread flu outbreak, the highest designation given by the CDC. The others are Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arkansas, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. 'Pockets' in Georgia

Georgia's flu season so far is considered "regional," a less severe designation. "So far, we have seen only pockets of flu in Georgia," Quartarone said.

In Florida, health officials were concerned about a sudden increase in reported flu cases in the past week.

"We're still not at outbreak stage yet. But it does worry me," said Florida Health Secretary John Agwunobi.

Alabama and Tennessee reported adequate vaccine supplies.

Even before this year's outbreaks, there were signs this could be a bad flu season. Some parts of the country were hit hard a month earlier than usual, and doctors reported seeing the A-Fujian-H3N2 strain, part of a class of flu viruses that caused severe outbreaks in the United States in the 1990s. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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