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The Flu Vaccine Shortage: How Bad Is It?

Flu season is coming up fast. For months, the government has been warning there's a shortage of vaccine this year. So, how bad is the supply shortage, and how might this affect you?


Medical correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin found part of the answer at a hospital supply dock.


It doesn't look special, but one shipment arriving at Lancaster General Hospital is nothing short of precious cargo. Flu vaccine.


"We'd like to have more," says Dr. Alan Peterson. "We're just pleased we're getting our first shipment in."


With flu season looming, Lancaster is one of the few places in the country to get the vaccine. Because of difficulties producing it only 30 percent of the nation's supply will be available by the end of October.


"We have to concentrate on high risk groups first," Peterson says.


Flu vaccine, developed by growing the virus in chicken eggs, always contains three strains of flu which are chosen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This year, a new strain called "Panama A" proved stubborn to grow.


"They don't choose the three strains based on their ability to be manufactured," says Jim Robinson of vaccine producer Aventis Pasteur, "they choose them on their ability to protect the public against disease.


Aventis Pasteur, one of two main vaccine producers, is now a month behind in shipments and has cancelled all vacations to get the job done. Wyeth Ayerst hasn't even started shipping yet.


What it means is that flu vaccine campaigns usually beginning in October are being pushed back to December, and only for those at highest risk: health care workers and the elderly should go first. The delay is problematic for health care officials.


"We're concerned that some of the influenza vaccine that is produced late will not be used because people will be thinking about the holidays and they'll be preoccupied with other things," says Nancy Cox of the CDC.


It takes about 14 days to develop immunity to the flu, and since the virus has a history of being at its worst in February, health officials warn a delay is no reason to put the flu shot off for good. This year it could even be a New Year's resolution.

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