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U.S. Flu Vaccine Plentiful: CDC

FRIDAY, Nov. 9 -- More than 103 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed throughout the United States, a record amount for this point in the flu season, federal officials said Friday.

And officials expect that as many as 132 million doses will eventually be available for the 2007-08 flu season.

"That would be about 10 million more doses than ever before produced in the United States," Dr. Jeanne Santoli, deputy director of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Immunization Services Division, said during a teleconference.

The growth in supply is due to increased manufacturing capacity on the part of vaccine makers and the addition of a new manufacturer, Santoli said.

Santoli said that almost 75 percent of Americans are recommended to get a flu shot, particularly health-care providers and people at risk for flu-related complications, such as pneumonia. Those high-risk individuals include infants and young children; pregnant women; children and adults with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease; and people 65 and older.

Although the flu season is in its early stages, Santoli stressed that it's not too late to get vaccinated. "The time to get flu vaccine continues into December, January and beyond," she said.

This year's vaccine was designed to protect against the types of influenza that experts think are most likely to predominate. Specifically, it protects against three different types of influenza, said Dr. Joe Bresee, chief of the Branch of Epidemiology and Prevention at the CDC's Influenza Division.

"It's a little too early to tell whether this year's vaccine will match this year's strains," he said. "The strain we are most concerned about is the AH3N2 strain, because this strain, circulating in South America, seems to be slightly different from the vaccine strain -- so there may be a mismatch."

But even if that's the case, Bresee said, "this year's vaccine is by far the best prevention method."

Usually, there are three strains of flu virus present in the United States, Bresee said. "Even if there is a mismatch, you are protected very well against the other two types," he said. "Even if you are infected or exposed to one of the strains that the vaccine is not matched well against, there will be some protection against it."

According to the CDC, the 2007-08 flu season is just beginning, and nationwide, influenza activity is very low, with only two states reporting local activity.

In the United States, flu season can begin as early as October and continue through May. Each year, on average, from 5 percent to 20 percent of the population is infected with influenza, resulting in 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations from flu-related complications, the CDC said.

On Monday, actress Jennifer Garner will join with the CDC and the American Lung Association to help kick off the National Influenza Immunization Initiative, in New York City.

More information

For more on flu and flu vaccine, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Posted: November 2007