October 6, 2004
State Recommending Targeted Use of Flu Vaccine
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today recommended that all Maine health-care providers target their supplies of influenza vaccine to persons at highest risk of severe complications from the flu. The recommendation was prompted by last evening’s announcement that Chiron, the manufacturer of approximately half of the flu vaccine used in the United States, will be unable to release any flu vaccine this year. Today, British regulators suspended the manufacturing license of the company for three months and denied their ability to distribute vaccine anywhere in the world. Chiron's manufacturing plant is located in the United Kingdom.
The loss of the Chiron flu vaccine supply clearly poses a serious challenge to Maine’s vaccine supply during the upcoming flu season. In response to this news, HHS’ Bureau of Health has asked Maine health care providers to restrict use of available vaccine to persons at highest risk for complications from the flu.
"Our immediate focus will be on making sure that the vaccine supply we have reaches those who are most vulnerable," said Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH, Director of the Bureau of Health. "We will rely on voluntary actions of the public and health care providers to ensure that available influenza vaccine for this season is limited to those at highest risk for complications from flu and health care workers who provide their care."
Vaccine use should be limited to persons 65 years of age and older, persons of any age with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and asthma or with weakened immune systems, residents of nursing homes and long term care facilities, children 6 months through 23 months of age, women who will be pregnant during the influenza season, health care workers involved in direct patient care, and out-of-home caregivers of infants younger than 6 months of age.
"In previous years when we have experienced a flu vaccine shortage, Mainers have been very supportive of our decision to limit it to high-risk persons, and we anticipate receiving the same support for our decisions this year," Dr. Mills continued. “We recommend that high-risk Mainers call their health care providers to either make an appointment for a flu vaccine or be put on a list if vaccine is unavailable at this time.”
Because no Chiron vaccine had been released to the general public, there will be no need for a vaccine recall. The flu vaccine currently available in providers' offices is from a different manufacturer.
This year the state had ordered approximately 150,000 doses of flu vaccine for high-risk Mainers; about 123,000 of these doses were from Chiron, and the remaining almost 28,000 doses were from Aventis. Many private providers also purchase vaccine in addition to the state supply. The Bureau of Health is currently assessing the amount of flu vaccine available in the State through a telephone survey of a sampling of health care providers’ offices.
Maine does not usually see influenza until later in November and December. Nevertheless, Dr. Mills said that since the cold and flu season is about to start people should take several simple steps to help guard against getting or transmitting the flu. These include covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, and staying home if you have flu-like symptoms to avoid infecting others.
People in the high-risk categories should contact their health care provider if they experience flu-like symptoms.
Influenza is a viral respiratory illness marked by the sudden onset of fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. The illness is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, sending the highly contagious virus into the air.
Additional information about influenza can be obtained online at www.mainepublichealth.org