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Posts Tagged ‘flu’

It’s been a bad flu season with hospitals in many cities overwhelmed with patients. This is largely a preventable problem. The annual flu vaccine is not perfect but a wider use of the vaccine would provide some amelioration. So why don’t more people get a flu shot? Some reporter at the LA Times seemed to think that cost might be a factor (Why does a flu shot cost so much?, Jan 21). After all, getting the shot at your local pharmacy will set you back $30 or so. However, as the reporter found out, given the supply chain challenges of producing and distributing influenza vaccines, the real question is why flu shots cost so little.

That’s because the process of manufacturing the flu shot and distributing it is a huge headache for pharmaceutical companies. The influenza vaccine must be made anew each year, beginning in February. Researchers determine what strains to put in the vaccine after looking closely at what types of flu are most prevalent in the Southern Hemisphere throughout its winter, which is our summer. …

Vaccines for other illnesses, such as measles, mumps and rubella, can be used until their expiration date, which is often years after they’re made. Influenza vaccines are really only used September through January and then go in the trash. And there are no regulations saying people have to get flu vaccines, meaning it’s very difficult for companies to estimate how many they should make. …

This year, companies have produced about 145 million doses, he said. Only about 129 million have been distributed. Last year, companies lost even more on the flu vaccine because it was such a light flu season and fewer people decided to get the shot. Only about 42% of the U.S. population got an influenza vaccine last year, which meant that about 30 million doses were never used and had to be destroyed.

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Flu vaccine production has been a research topic of some interest over the last several years.  Broadly speaking this work has two prongs.  One regards the challenges of production planning when yields are highly uncertain.  The other deals with how to dole out the vaccine when supplies are limited.  Some recent articles show that these are very practical questions.  From today’s Wall Street Journal, we have a report that shipments of the H1N1 vaccine have fallen way short of forecasts (Vaccine Output Falls Short, Oct 24, 2009).

By Friday, 16.1 million doses of vaccine for what is also called H1N1 flu had been shipped to warehouses, the CDC said.

The total is far below the government’s most recent estimate that by the end of this month, about 28 million to 30 million doses would be ready.

That estimate itself is a revison, made last week, from a prior expectation of about 40 million doses by the end of the month. However, the number of doses shipped is steadily increasing. (more…)

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