Amid controversy over the supply of flu vaccines this year, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced today that there are 60 million doses available. That includes 2.6 million extra doses being made available by pharmaceutical manufacturer Aventis Pasteur for January distribution, Thompson said he learned today.
In a press conference held at HHS headquarters in Washington, D.C., Thompson advised physicians and hospitals to administer the vaccine only to patients in a "priority category," including children, the elderly and pregnant women.
"We need all of us to take a deep breath," Thompson said. "We successfully worked through vaccine supply problems in the past, and we're doing so this time as well."
Earlier this month, the United Kingdom regulatory authority temporarily suspended the manufacturing license for the Liverpool plant of Chiron Corp., one of only two manufacturers that produces the vaccine for the U.S. market. The move cut off 46 million to 48 million doses, leaving Aventis Pasteur as the sole U.S. supplier with about 55.4 million doses before today's announcement.
Meanwhile, the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is using the incident in political advertisements to portray President Bush as weak on healthcare issues.
Not the case, according to Thompson, who said today that Bush has invested more in researching flu medicines than any other president, recommending $283 million in funding in fiscal 2005.
Earlier, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview "it's possible" an extra 1.5 million doses of flu vaccine might become available from Canadian manufacturer ID Biomedical in time to make it to American consumers this flu season.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, some medical groups have stopped holding public flu-shot clinics due to the shortage.
Maxim Healthcare, which operated public flu clinics for Costco, Albertsons and Walgreen's, won't hold any more retail clinics because its supply of vaccine has run low, spokesman Pete Montoya said Monday.
"We have a very limited amount right now that we're holding for nursing homes and assisted-living centers" that have contracts with the company, he said.
Flu-Central, a public flu clinic that vaccinated more than 1,000 Coloradans a day last week, expected to run out of vaccine this week.
"It's obvious what the crisis is here," said Arlene Miles, president of the Colorado Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the state. "When you have many at-risk people living in the same facility, if one person gets the flu, you run the risk of more epidemic proportions of the flu."
The Air Force Academy won't offer flu shots to retirees during its retiree appreciation day this year because of the shortage, the academy announced today.
The Kerry campaign announced the release of a blistering, 60-second radio spot critical of the Bush Administration's handling of the vaccine shortage.
The ad accuses Bush and fellow Republicans of being "so busy kowtowing to drug companies, so busy giving them billions, helping them price-gouge, pumping up their profits, so busy selling us out, they can't even get vaccines to keep pregnant woman safe from the flu."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.