Federal health officials said Tuesday that another 2.6 million doses of flu vaccine will be available in January to augment existing supplies as they sought to calm fears about the shortage.
"We've successfully worked through vaccine supply problems in the past and we're doing so this time as well," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. "We need all of us to take a deep breath."
Officials are also looking "throughout the world" for additional vaccine, said Food and Drug Administration Acting Administrator Lester Crawford.
"It is not possible at this point to say exactly how many additional doses we will find or what the fate of them will be in the regulatory process," Crawford said.
Earlier Tuesday, another top health official said the FDA is in "active negotiations" with a Canadian manufacturer to obtain an extra 1.5 million doses of flu vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview "it's possible" the vaccine from ID Biomedical would make it to American consumers this flu season.
Crawford said the FDA would inspect the Canadian facilities to see if they meet U.S. standards.
At a news conference Tuesday, Thompson said that vaccine manufacturer Aventis Pasteur told him Tuesday that it was able to produce another 2.6 million doses, for a total of 58 million doses. The Bush administration has been scurrying to shore up supplies of the vaccine in the wake of the shutdown of a British manufacturing plant that in the past has provided about half of the U.S. supply.
Thompson also said the FDA had reviewed supplies of anti-viral medicines and concluded that there was enough to treat 40 million people who might become sick with the flu.
"We're waging a comprehensive and aggressive response," he said. "We have good reason to be optimistic in our ability to deal with flu season and protect the most vulnerable from its harsh effects."
Vaccine supplies to the United States were severely curtailed this month when authorities discovered that vaccine from one of two primary suppliers, Chiron Corp., was contaminated. Federal authorities have asked that healthy adults refrain from getting vaccinated to leave enough for those at greatest risk: the young, chronically ill, elderly, pregnant women and certain health care workers.
Thompson aggressively defended the administration's response to the shortage in the wake of criticism from Sen. John Kerry, President Bush's Democratic challenger, who has interjected the issue into the presidential campaign.
Kerry has said the administration failed to heed warnings about a potential shortage.
"If you can't get flu vaccines to Americans, how are you going to protect them against bioterrorism? If you can't get flu vaccines to Americans, what kind of health care program are you running?" he said.
Mr. Bush said the shortages were due to a "major manufacturing defect," and sought to assure voters in Florida Tuesday that the government was doing what it could to help the most vulnerable get shots.
"Millions more will be shipped in the coming weeks," Mr. Bush said.
Thompson rejected the suggestion of one senator, Democrat Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, that the administration declare a public health emergency to help deliver scarce flu vaccine doses to people who need it most. "The public health emergency would just create more confusion and not accomplish anything," Thompson said.
Meanwhile, discussions continue with Canadian authorities about vaccine they may have available for the U.S. market.
Health Canada said it was first contacted by the FDA on Oct. 12, a week after the British government barred Chiron Corp. from shipping 48 million doses of flu vaccine.
ID Biomedical's flu vaccine is currently licensed for use in Canada, China and Mexico. Health Canada has been pulling together documents, including inspection reports and the agency's independent tests, to show the FDA that ID Biomedical's tests of vaccine potency and safety were accurate.
"We have similar standards," said Jirina Vlk, a Health Canada spokeswoman. She said she expected the Health Canada records would be in the FDA's hands by the end of the month.
ID Biomedical has just 1.5 million doses of flu vaccine available this year. But next year, it can provide 8 to 12 million doses to Americans, said MichGele Roy, the company's director of corporate communications.
The company is expanding its Quebec manufacturing facility to try to provide up to 50 million doses of flu vaccine as early as 2007.
Federal authorities are working to distribute what they have to the areas that need it most.
Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday the government was "mapping by county across the United States the expected number of high-risk people and number of doses of vaccine that have already been delivered" so that vaccine can be allocated to areas that need it most.
Meanwhile, Gerberding advised people to "use good respiratory etiquette."
"Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough and use good hand hygiene," she said. "Also don't go to work if you're sick with a respiratory illness and don't send your kids to school if they're sick."