An increased demand for the flu vaccine has led to spot shortages. / Mario Tama, Getty Images
Some parts of the country are experiencing spot shortages of flu vaccine because of increased demand in a flu season that started earlier and is more severe than previous years.
In Las Vegas, Celeste Tom tried six times before she found a flu shot for her boyfriend.
"I'd been bugging him to get a flu shot, but he kept putting it off," said Tom, 55. The Smith's Food and Drug Center where she got her shot was out. Her partner called his doctor's office, but they were out, too. Next she tried a Walgreens and then a CVS pharmacy; no vaccine. She called another Smith's, but it would administer vaccine only to people over 65. On Monday, she found a Walgreens that had 10 doses left. "I called back when he got off work at 1 p.m. to make sure they still had some, and he finally went in."
"The bottom line is there's vaccine out there," said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "There may be places where there are spot shortages, but there should be a little bit more coming, so people may have to check around for it."
It took Pam Copley a full day. The Staten Island, N.Y., mom, 42, tried her pediatrician, but the office had no appointments until February. She and daughter Colleen, 15, got in line at a CVS, only to have the nurse come and and say she didn't have shots for anyone under 18. After "a bunch of phone calls," Copley found vaccine at an urgent-care clinic. They had to wait there for five hours, but it was worth it, she said. "There's lots of flu in the schools here right now.
U.S. flu vaccine manufacturers have increased the number of doses they expect to produce this year to 145 million from previous estimates of 137 million, Skinner said. About 128 million doses have been shipped, and the "vast majority" of those have been used, he said. "We had 112 million people vaccinated by the end of November."
The CDC is working with the National Influenza Vaccine Summit, a coalition that monitors the flu and vaccine supply, to tell doctors and other health care providers which distributors and vaccine manufacturers have vaccine available to order, Skinner said.
"Spot shortages are not due to any manufacturing issues," said Rita Chappelle, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration. It's more an effect of a mild flu season last year and a more severe one this year. "Demand for the vaccine is high."
Ordering flu vaccine can be a challenge, said Cameron Wolfe with the division of infectious diseases at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C. It requires "pharmacies, physicians' offices and clinics to pre-order their supply, and given the variability in the flu season, it is always an educated estimate of what you'll actually need."
There are two main vaccine producers in the United States, Sanofi US in Bridgewater, Conn., and GlaxoSmithKline in Upper Merion, Pa. For the 2012-2013 flu season GlaxoSmithKline, also known as GSK, produced about 25 million doses of flu vaccine.
All those 25 million doses of flu vaccine are spoken for, and shipping will be finished by early to mid-February, GSK spokesman Robert Perry said.
That doesn't mean there's no more flu vaccine available to doctors. Much of GSK's production goes to medical suppliers that take orders from doctors' offices, Perry said. The company had the capacity to produce more flu shots, but 25 million doses was "what customers told us they would need," Perry said. In the past two years about half of Americans get vaccinated.
It's tricky to estimate how much to produce because flu vaccine takes six to nine months to produce, so manufacturers have to plan production before all the orders are in. GSK began taking orders for this flu season in October 2011. It will finish taking orders for next year's flu season next month. Health care providers base their estimates on previous year's demand. A single dose costs $7.90 to $8.85 wholesale, and doctors are careful not to order too much.
It's still not too late to get vaccinated. Flu seasons are unpredictable in their length, and it's unclear whether cases are still building or beginning to wane, according to the CDC. "Being vaccinated with the flu vaccine each year remains the best way to prevent the flu," Chappelle said.
Information on flu vaccine availability is at www.flu.gov.
Copyright 2015 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: A shot in the dark? Some say flu vaccine hard to find