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Flu Vaccines Delayed A Month

Flu season is right around the corner, and that means it's almost time to get those flu shots. With last year's vaccine shortage and the threat of another shortage this year, The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay offers the latest news on the vaccine and details about who should get the shot, when to get it and what options are available in lieu of the vaccine.

A company that supplies half of the nation's flu vaccines, Chiron Corporation, did tests and discovered that about 4 million of their vaccines were contaminated. That means that all 50 million doses they're producing this year will be held for more tests. So there was a lot of concern that there would be a shortage this year.

In response to that problem, the government asked Aventis - the other major producer of flu vaccines - to make more vaccines to help cover the possible shortfall. But Aventis said they couldn't because they're already at their maximum capacity.

Now that's the problem. But the Centers for Disease Control says there is nothing to worry about; there will be no shortage this year. Rather, we're looking at about a month-long delay.

Chiron plans to ship 46 to 48 million doses by early October, instead of September. And fortunately, Aventis is shipping 52 million doses; that's 9 million more than last year. So don't worry. There will be plenty of flu shots to go around.

When the flu vaccine is well matched to the strain that's out there, it's very effective. It generally protects against the flu about 70 to 90 percent of the time. When it's not well matched, the vaccine is still effective and it's definitely a good idea to get the shot or flumist, the nasal spray version of the vaccine. Last year, the CDC found that the mismatched vaccine still worked about 52 percent of the time to prevent the flu.

Now the way they actually formulate the vaccine for the U.S. is by studying what strains are circulating in Asia and other parts of the world and anticipating their arrival in the U.S. They do all of this months ahead of time, so that they have the vaccine ready for flu season.

What happened last year when the vaccine was mismatched is that a new strain began circulating before they could prepare for it. To make matters worse, flu season hit early.

This season, since there will be plenty to go around, people should make sure to get the vaccine if:

  • There is a possibilty that the flu will hit you harder than the average person
  • People age 50 and over
  • Children ages 6 months to 2 years
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with heart or lung problems
  • Those who have their immune system compromised (which includes people with diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and HIV, among others)
  • Nursing home residents and health care providers. In both cases, you are exposed to many more germs and illnesses than average people are.

    The shots are expected to be available starting in October. The flu season can start as early as October. But the typical season runs from mid-December through March. The earlier you can get the vaccine, the better. This way, you don't have to worry about long waits for appointments or long lines in clinics as flu season draws nearer.

    What some parents don't realize is that kids who have not had a flu shot in the past need a second shot for the vaccine to be effective. So for children, scheduling those doctor appointments way in advance is definitely a good idea.

    If you decide not to get vaccinated, and you're unlucky enough to get the flu, there are two fairly newer treatments options that target the flu virus. They usually have few side effects and they can help shorten the severity and duration of the flu by a day or so if they are administered quickly.

    First, there's Relenza, an inhaled antiviral medication. In addition to helping you get over the flu, it has also been shown to reduce the transmission of the flu between family members. Another option is Tamiflu, which also effective at reducing severity and duration of the illness.

    These drugs can also reduce complications like sinusitis and bronchitis. But to be effective, they must be taken very soon after symptoms develop. So it's important to call your doctor within 24 to 48 hours of the first signs of symptoms.

    But the bottom line is still that there is no magic cure. The flu needs to run its course.

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