2004 flu vaccine shortage

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2004 Flu Vaccine Shortage Overview

  • Flu deaths in average year: 36,000- 51,000
  • Estimated additional flu deaths due to vaccine shortage: 9,000-12,750
  • Estimated value of lost productivity due to shortage: $20 billion
  • Number of doses supplied by Aventis-Pasteur: 58 million
  • Number of doses supplied by MedImmune: 3 million (inhaled FluMist)
  • Total US doses available in 2004-2005 flu season: 61 million
  • Number of US citizens at high-risk of fatal flu case: 90 million
  • Number of doses lost due to Chiron problem: 46-48 million
  • Timing of Aventis-Pasteur's vaccine availability
    • October 2004 and before: 31.4 million
    • Rest of 2004: 24 million
    • January 2005: 2.6 million


  • CDC Vaccine Shortage Information
  • reuters 10/20/04
  • AP 10/21/04

See also Flu vaccine.

The Flu Shot Situation

Latest news

Nursing homes can't get vaccine Washington Post 10/29/04

One assisted-living facility in the District removed every oscillating fan from hallways and residents' rooms, the better to avoid aiding airborne germs. A nursing home in Prince George's County ordered double-time on housekeeping efforts to ensure that door handles, telephones, TV remote controls and the like -- the usual suspects in spreading contamination -- are wiped down even more frequently.

Surgical masks are being restocked, just in case. Isolation plans are being reviewed for the same reason.

Behind the scenes are the phone calls. In the Silver Spring office of Maxim Healthcare, a major flu vaccine distributor, Jason Vollmer has a waiting list that is "growing every day" as worried nursing directors and their bosses search for a supply line. He doesn't offer false hope. Although he agreed to add two more facilities' names to his list this week, their chance of getting doses is, "unfortunately, very slim," he said.

Officials touring swing states to try to calm flu furor, New York Times 10/24/04

Mr. Thompson has warned the elderly to avoid waiting in long lines for shots (they could get sick, he said) and directed his top officials to tour the country in a "flu education tour" to calm fears. The stops include Trenton, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Miami, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Cleveland - cities that happen to be in key swing states.

At a stop in Miami Thursday, the department's assistant secretary for aging, Josefina Carbonell, said that Florida's elderly should not worry.

"There's no reason to be alarmed," Ms. Carbonell said. "There are plenty of vaccines on their way."

Actually, there are not nearly enough vaccines to cover even the 90 million people at highest risk for the disease. But Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Mitchell Cohen, director of the Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases at the C.D.C., both noted in interviews that less than half of those at highest risk to the disease normally bother to get vaccinated.

If that pattern holds this year, they both said, there will be enough vaccine to go around and everything will be all right.

It's an unusual argument for public health officers to make. They are saying that if half of the nation's at-risk elderly patients don't bother even trying to get a flu shot, putting them at risk of getting sick and - in tens of thousands of cases - dying of the disease as they do every year, things will be fine.

Bush administration AWOL regarding flu shot crisis, New York Times 10/22/04

Swing state flu shot situation

  • Colorado

10/22/04 First flu case hits state. Health officials still under delusion they will receive enough doses for all high-risk citizens. Hmm... maybe they will -- this is a swing state after all.

  • Florida

10/21/04 State officials claim there are enough doses for "highest" risk groups. The U.S. Surgeon General mysteriously turns up in Florida.

10/20/04 Florida has less than one-third the doses needed for its high-risk population.

  • Iowa

10/15/04 Iowa running out of flu shots even for high-risk patients.

  • Nevada

10/20/04 Tommy Thompson in Vegas to mislead citizens by stating that 100 million doses of "anti-viral" medications will be available this season. But the shortage is with infuenza vaccine and there are only 60 million doses for 90 million high risk citizens.

10/20/04 Ineligible casino workers getting shots.

  • Ohio

10/21/04 No pediatric vaccine available in Akron area clinics.

  • Wisconsin

10/16/04 New fines for doctors caught giving shots to the ineligible. State officials expecting sufficient supplies to immunize the state's 800 - 900 thousand high risk citizens.

Non-swing state flu shot situation

  • New York

NYT reports private NY city doctors can't get vaccine supplies.

Vaccination Lotteries

A number of localities are holding lotteries in order to choose between eligible vaccine recipients.

Bloomfield, N.J. -- Eleven hundred sign up for 300 doses.

Montgomery County, MD -- Ten thousand sign up for 800 doses.

Newton, Iowa-- Nine hundred for 423 shots.

Portland, ME -- Portland only receives 10% of doses ordered.

Statements About The Flu Shot Situation

Statements by Bush Adminstration

  • CDC Director Julie Gerberding: "We're Sorry" for People Who Won't Get Flu Shot.(New York Times, 10/17/04)
At a news conference on Tuesday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, apologized for the vaccine shortage, but had little to offer the public beyond a plea to people who get sick to stay home and cover their mouths when they cough. "We're sorry for the people who need flu vaccine and may not be able to get it this year," Dr. Gerberding said. "That's disappointing for all of us."
  • HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson: "We Are Not in a Crisis." (Fox News, 10/17/04)
We are not in a crisis and I want people just to relax. ... There is no crisis, there is plenty of vaccine for those that are seniors, 65 years of old. And those are the ones that we want to get vaccinated first because that's where the biggest problem is.
  • HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson: Thompson said in a phone interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal after speaking in Las Vegas about medical malpractice:
We realize how perilous a problem this is. We can handle the situation. We do not want people to stand in lines. We’ll be shipping out up to 3 million doses next week to places like Nevada and Florida.

Statements by Bush

In reference to the stopping of production at a plant in Britain owned by teh Chiron Corporation, PResident George W. Bush said:

I know there are some here who are worried about the flu season. I want to assure them that our government is doing everything possible to help older Americans and children get their shots, despite the major manufacturing defect that caused this problem.


Statements by Kerry

Senator Kerry said in an interview with National Public Radio:

If you can't get flu vaccines to Americans, how are you going to protect them against bioterrorism? If you can't get flu vaccines to Americans, what kind of health care program are you running?


Political Reprecussions

While many Americans search in vain for flu shots, members and employees of Congress are able to obtain them quickly and at no charge from the Capitol's attending physician, who has urged all 535 lawmakers to get the vaccines even if they are young and healthy… But people of all ages who are credentialed to work in the Capitol can get a shot by saying they meet the guidelines, with no further questions asked… The practice appears to directly contravene the instruction being given by the government's executive branch.
  • From Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing Column 10/20/04:
Flu Headache
Yesterday, on the way from St. Petersburg to New Port Richey, the presidential entourage stopped at the Paradise Restaurant in the little town of Safety Harbor, where the president and his brother posed for pictures and were served coffee and baklava. While in the restaurant, a member of the press pool shouted out a question to the president: "Are you accountable for the flu vaccine shortage?"
Bush ignored the question. And reporters were hustled out of the restaurant.
  • Richard Sisk and Helen Kennedy write in the New York Daily News:
The flu is giving President Bush a headache.
  • David E. Sanger and Gardiner Harris write in the New York Times:
With polls showing that Florida is once again too close to call, President Bush on Tuesday assured the state's flu-wary retirees that 'we have millions of vaccines doses on hand for the most vulnerable Americans' as his administration said that 2.6 million more doses would be available by January.
  • Laura Meckler writes for the Associated Press:
For Bush, the issue is much like what a mayor faces when streets go unplowed after a snow storm just before an election, said Robert Blendon, a Harvard pollster who specializes in health issues. . . .
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have tried to frame the issue as part of the administration's overall health care agenda, saying it's the threat of lawsuits that keeps manufacturers from entering and staying in the vaccine business.
But that's only a very small part of the problem, said Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health.
  • Jonathan Peterson writes in the Los Angeles Times:
One analyst said the vaccine shortage could damage Bush politically. "It doesn't take any sophistication about politics to grasp the basic point: Not enough vaccine, and it happened on the administration's watch," said Lawrence Jacobs, director of the 2004 Elections Project for the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
This issue has the potential for becoming the poster child for the Kerry campaign theme that President Bush has dropped the ball.
  • Donna Leinwand writes in an FAQ for USA Today:
Scientists have been predicting such a shortage for years.
It makes sense for Kerry to tie the flu vaccine shortage to health care more broadly, since health care has been his best major issue against Bush (a six-point Kerry advantage in tracking results earlier this week). And 61 percent of likely voters are concerned about the vaccine shortage, including 26 percent who are "very" concerned. Where there's concern, blame may follow.
Concern about the shortage is itself largely partisan — it peaks among Democrats, Kerry supporters and minorities. But there's one other important political group in which this concern peaks, and that Kerry may be targeting — senior citizens, among whom 70 percent are concerned about the shortage, and 40 percent are "very" concerned.
Blame, at the same time, is not currently in great supply. Twenty-seven percent of likely voters say the Bush administration deserves blame for the vaccine shortage, and fewer, 12 percent, assign it a "great deal" of blame. That blame, moreover, is largely partisan, peaking among Kerry voters, Democrats, liberals and other core Democratic groups. It's not significantly higher among seniors.
Concern about the lack of vaccine is 10 points higher among women than men, but no higher among parents with children under 18 at home (parents of very young children are too small a subgroup to break out in this poll). Neither women, nor parents, are more apt to blame the Bush administration for the vaccine shortage.
Kerry, for his part, has directly blamed the administration for the shortage, including a radio ad that specifically mentioned elderly Americans, young children and pregnant women as being at risk.
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