An additional 1.8 million doses of vaccine against the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus have become available since Monday, bringing the total ready to be shipped to 31.8 million doses, said Dr.Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a news conference this morning. "We are on track for a 10 million dose increase this week," he said. That scaled-back goal is well below the 20 million doses per week that officials had predicted last month.
Delays in growing the virus are the major part of the problem, but some delays have also occurred because countries where the vaccines are manufactured have insisted that their own needs be met before doses are shipped out of the country. Frieden cited Australia, where CSL Ltd. makes vaccines destined for the U.S., as the most egregious example. With the exception of the intranasal vaccine FluMist, all of the influenza vaccines used in the United States are manufactured in other countries, leaving this country at the mercy of other governments.
The shortage of vaccines was exacerbated slightly when a Pennsylvania school district was forced to discard 6,000 doses of vaccine because they had been stored improperly and allowed to freeze, which inactivates the vaccine. Such accidents "are virtually inevitable" in a large vaccination program, "and we are glad that there have been only a few cases," Frieden said.
The United States said earlier this fall that it would join with other countries in distributing 10% of its swine flu vaccine to developing countries, a decision that drew much criticism. That distribution was supposed to have occurred in November, but Frieden said it has now been delayed and it is not clear when it will actually occur. "We are looking at a variety of options for how to support other countries," he said.
Criticism also accompanied the announcement last week that detainees at the Guantanamo prison facility would receive the vaccine on a priority basis, even though the amount of vaccine involved is minuscule because there are only about 215 prisoners. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said this morning, however, that the criticism was misplaced and that no vaccines are at the naval base and none are on the way.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II