The Bush administration said it is working to buy 5 million doses of flu vaccine from manufacturers in Canada and Germany, mixing the ticklish issue of prescription drug imports with the flu shot shortage.
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said government inspectors next week will visit plants where the vaccine is made to assess whether it is safe for Americans' use. If the vaccine eventually makes it to this country, patients who receive it would have to sign a form acknowledging they are aware their flu shots were not originally destined for the U.S., Thompson said.
With those 5 million doses, the administration will have found 11 million additional flu shots, roughly a quarter of the shortage, since early October. Thompson said federal agencies are turning in another 300,000 doses that will be shipped to states for use in priority populations -- people aged 65 and over, children younger than 5 and the chronically ill.
Thompson said there is a "big difference" between medicines imported by individuals that are not subject to inspections and the flu vaccine.
"This vaccine is going to be inspected by FDA inspectors, based upon efficacy and safety," Thompson said. "Drugs that are imported into America don't have that protection."