More flu vaccine is expected to be available for millions of Americans in January, but that could be too late.
The flu season typically peaks in January or later. It takes two weeks for people to develop immunity after being vaccinated, which should be done in October or November, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So while the U.S. government is searching all over the world for more vaccine, it is unclear how helpful the extra doses will be if they don't arrive until next year.
The extra doses were ordered after British regulators closed a plant making half of the flu vaccine the United States requested for this season.
The vaccine shortage has had wide-ranging effects, from Canada to Capitol Hill to the campaign trail.
Clinics and pharmacies across the border are offering to inoculate U.S. residents, Margaret Holmen and others from the Powers Lake Senior Citizens Center in Bismarck, N.D., have been talking about going to Canada for their shots.
"Everybody here is thinking about it," said Holmen, the senior center's manager. "We hear on the news that we should be patient, but we don't know what to do."
Word of Canada's vaccine availability is spreading quickly. Eighty Americans showed up for flu shots Tuesday at Henders Drug in Estevan — located about 9 miles north of the North Dakota border — although the store's newspaper advertisement hadn't even run yet.
"I suspect there will be a lot more," said Larry Preddy, pharmacist and co-owner of the store. He charges Americans the same price as Canadians — $15 Canadian or about $12.
Urgent Care Niagara's Fort Erie clinic, just across the border from Buffalo, said it would vaccinate 100 Americans a day, for around $40 each, squeezing them in among Canadian patients who got first priority.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that despite the government's request that young, healthy people forego the shot this year, flu vaccine is readily available on Capitol Hill and the physician there is advising all lawmakers to get it. Already, 2,000 shots have been dispensed there, down from 9,000 a year ago.
In the Sunshine state, a vaccination campaign by Get Healthy Florida was put on hold on the order of the Food and Drug Administration after it was discovered that the vaccine was coming from a foreign producer, not the domestic one that was expected.
On the campaign trail, Sen. John Kerry, President Bush's Democratic challenger, 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?" Kerry said.
In Florida, Mr. Bush sought to ease Americans' concerns. "I want to assure them that our government is doing everything possible to help older Americans and children get their shots despite the major manufacturing defect that caused this problem," he said.
Chiron Corp. was expected to provide the United States with 46 million to 48 million doses of flu vaccine, nearly half the supply the government anticipated needing. But British regulators closed Chiron's Liverpool facility because of contamination.
That left the United States with about 55 million doses from its second manufacturer, Aventis Pasteur. At a news conference Tuesday, Aventis Pasteur announced it could produce another 2.6 million doses. The extra vaccine won't be ready for distribution until January.
"We're waging a comprehensive and aggressive response," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told a news conference. "We have good reason to be optimistic in our ability to deal with the flu season and protect the most vulnerable from its harsh effects."
He said there was enough antiviral medicine available to treat 40 million people, shortening illness in people sick with the flu and preventing illness in healthy people.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said Wednesday he believes the additional shots will arrive in time to help.
The flu season likely will "peak at the end of the December, the beginning of January, but it goes well through February and sometimes into March," he said on the CBS News Early Show.
"So, any amount of doses that one can get, even as late as January, clearly will be very helpful, particularly if we have a very active flu year," Fauci said.
Between vaccines and antiviral drugs, enough medicine will be available to treat 100 million people this flu season, Thompson said. Federal authorities have asked that healthy adults refrain from getting vaccinated to leave enough for those at greatest risk: the very young, the very old and people with chronic illnesses.
Meanwhile, officials are looking "throughout the world" for additional vaccine, said Lester Crawford, Food and Drug Administration acting commissioner.
Crawford said the FDA would give expedited review to flu vaccine produced by ID Biomedical of Canada. The expedited review — "weeks, rather than months" — means the 1.5 million Canadian flu shots could reach Americans this season, he said.