This year's supply of flu vaccine will reach 80 million doses by the beginning of December — a robust supply considering the United States has never administered more than 83 million doses in a single year.
Still, many health care providers complain that they can't get the vaccine, or they can't get enough to meet demand — and they're right, an official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
Dr. Jeanne Santoli, deputy director of the CDC's Immunization Services Division, said pockets of shortages have occurred because Chiron Corp. was expected to deliver 25-30 million doses of vaccine, but it likely will produce fewer than 18 million. It may even produce only 11-12 million doses, she said.
"The problem this year has been both less vaccine than anticipated from one of the manufacturers and a delay in the distribution of that vaccine," Santoli said.
Santoli briefed an advisory committee to the Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday. She said Chiron supplies that were expected to be distributed in late September actually were sent about a month later. However, by then, some health care providers had already canceled clinics for their patients.
Dr. Lawrence Deyton of the Department of Veterans Affairs told fellow advisory committee members that he heard from staff who had to cancel flu shot clinics this year, and he fears the patients won't come back.
"The reputation is we failed out there," Deyton said. "I don't like that."
Some committee members said they were concerned that reports of flu vaccine shortages would discourage people from getting a shot, but they said getting the shot later in the flu season was better than not at all.
So far, the flu season is off to a gentle start.
Last year, the U.S. experienced a shortage of vaccine when British regulators shut down Chiron Corp. after the discovery of contaminated vaccine. The company was allowed to resume production in the fall.
Santoli said CDC officials were conducting surveys to determine whether demand for the vaccine has increased because of the publicity surrounding last year's shortage and the unrelated threat of a bird flu pandemic. She said an increase in demand could also be causing some of the shortages that have occurred regionally.