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More Flu Vaccine Doses to Be Shipped As Virus Spreads

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told reporters the government had arranged for 100,000 doses of adult vaccine to be shipped from Aventis Pasteur immediately and distributed based on each state’s population. In addition, the government expected that 150,000 doses of children’s vaccine would be shipped to the states by January, Thompson said.

The 100,000 doses represent the last supplies the company had on hand, and do not include new batches of vaccine created to meet this year’s surge in demand, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Julie Gerberding said later in the press conference. The CDC is also looking into buying additional vaccine doses from a British maker.

The CDC also reported Thursday that the flu has hit all 50 states at least sporadically, and the season has not yet peaked nationally.

The CDC also added Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island and West Virginia to the list of states with widespread flu activity.

Last week, only Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming were on that list.

At least 11 children have died in this year’s outbreak. Each year about 36,000 people die from flu.

A CDC publication released Thursday reports that national flu activity levels have not peaked and “that neither the duration of activity nor the season’s eventual magnitude is known.” Gerberding told reporters that there have been some indications that flu activity may be leveling off in some of the hardest hit states.

However, an early start is often a marker of a more widespread flu season, Gerberding said.

The CDC is gathering information on where vaccine doses are located, but Gerberding said there is no “big reserve hidden away somewhere” that they can tap into.

Gerberding said Thursday the CDC is recommending prioritizing flu shots for high-risk groups, which include the elderly, children under 24 months old, those with chronic medical conditions, and women in the second and third trimester of pregnancy.

Doses of the nasal-spray flu vaccine are also still available, although it is not appropriate for everyone and should not be used by those 50 years of age and over or children under 5.

This year’s vaccine is made from a flu strain that is similar to the strain responsible for most cases of this season’s flu, though the two are not an exact match. This mismatch means that, although the CDC is continuing its efforts to vaccinate those at high risk, its experts do not know exactly how effective the vaccine will be.

“With a vaccine with a less optimal match, you have to say it might not work at all,” Dr. Scott Harper, a CDC epidemiologist, told the Associated Press. “That’s very unlikely. Probably it will not be 90 percent effective. But we just have no good sense of how it will work in humans. Biology is messy.”

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