Officials expect no flu vaccine shortage in US

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WASHINGTON, Sep 19 (Reuters) Up to 132 million doses of influenza vaccine, a record, should be available in the United States for the flu season, health officials said today as they encouraged Americans to get their shots.

In some years, tight supplies have reduced the number of Americans who have gotten the vaccine, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there will be ample supplies this year.

''This year, we are pleased that we believe we have a stable supply of vaccine,'' said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding.

In kicking off their annual flu vaccine campaign, CDC officials released figures showing too few children and others get the vaccine and urged Americans to take the flu threat seriously.

About one in five children aged six months to 23 months were fully vaccinated in the 2005-2006 flu season and only about one in 10 children who needed two doses got them both, according to the most recent CDC figures available.

The expected total of up to 132 million doses compares to the 120 million doses that were available last year, of which 102.5 million doses were distributed to doctors and others to administer it to people, according to Dr Jeanne Santoli, the CDC's deputy director of immunization services.

Santoli said the actual number of people who got the vaccine last year is not yet known. The flu vaccine is given as either a shot or as a nasal spray.

Varying strains of the flu virus appear each year, so the vaccine is re-formulated annually to counter the strains public health experts expect will circulate.

Officials advocated administering it past the usual October and November time frame. They said the flu season generally peaks in February. In previous flu seasons, public demand for the vaccine dropped after the end of November, leaving many doses unused.

The CDC campaign began on the same day US health officials approved the Flumist nasal spray influenza vaccine for children between two and five years. Flumist maker MedImmune Inc. was recently acquired by AstraZeneca.

Previously, the spray vaccine was approved only for healthy children age 5 and older and adults up to age 49.

The CDC said flu kills about 36,000 people and sends 200,000 into the hospital in the United States annually.

Those over age 65 are among the people at highest risk of developing serious complications and death from flu.

CDC officials also complained that only 40 percent of doctors, nurses and other health care workers get the shot, saying they are not protecting themselves against a virus they may unwittingly spread to patients.

REUTERS gl rk2344

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