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Shortages of flu shots are spotty

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG
  • Star Tribune
  • September 18, 2009 - 11:02 PM

So many Minnesotans have rushed to get seasonal flu shots that temporary spot shortages have cropped up around the state.

But, according to the Minnesota Health Department, there doesn't appear to be a full-blown shortage of the vaccine.

"There's no reason to believe we're going to run out," department spokesman Buddy Ferguson said Friday. "We aren't anticipating a shortage."

That said, the department's advice that people get vaccinated early, coupled with intense media coverage of the looming H1N1 flu pandemic, has caused a stampede at clinics and commercial businesses selling the vaccine.

"There's been a lot of early demand, and the shortages are an artifact of how rapidly the vaccine is being delivered to providers," Ferguson said.

For example, earlier this week, two seasonal flu vaccine clinics in Fergus Falls had to be canceled because of a delay in deliveries from the vaccine's supplier.

Vaccine production is a complicated and lengthy process that can take as much as nine months.

Normally, deliveries are geared to arrive later in the fall, closer to the usual onset of flu. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, but influenza activity peaks in January or later.

"There's only so much vaccine in the pipeline at one time," Ferguson said. "We've been telling people to get [their vaccination] out of the way, so the best thing to do is keep checking back with providers."

The long-anticipated fall outbreak of H1N1, also known as swine flu, has begun in Minnesota, with clusters of new cases cropping up at schools and universities and cases expected to peak in the next six to eight weeks.

The vaccine for the H1N1 strain is not expected to be delivered until next month, prompting some worries that it could be too late to head off the peak.

Meanwhile, global production of H1N1 vaccines will be "substantially less" than the previous maximum forecast of 94 million doses a week, the World Health Organization reported today.

The number of doses produced in a year will therefore fall short of the 4.9 billion doses the global health body previously hoped could be available for the pandemic, a WHO spokesman said.

Production will be lower because some manufacturers are still turning out vaccines for seasonal flu.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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