Some 36,000 Americans die from flu complications every year so public alarm in reaction to the recent decision by British regulators to shut down the supplier of 46 million doses, or about the half this year's planned supply to the U.S., was hardly surprising. The action leaves only about 54 million flu shots available to Americans from a competing firm, and the U.S. government quickly decided that most healthy adults should delay or skip them to leave enough vaccine for the elderly and other high-risk patients. The government has urged voluntary rationing before, during a shortage in 2000. This year, however, will mark a record shortage just before flu season begins. Although the Bush administration offered assurances that anyone who needed a flu shot would get one, the shortage quickly developed into a political issue, with President Bush and Senator Kerry trading blame for the scarcity on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, U.S. and Canadian officials scrambled to come up with a plan to allow 1.2 million doses of Canadian-manufactured vaccine to be imported as an experimental drug.
The first link offered here leads to an overview news story that summarizes the shortage situation so far and the outlook for fresh supplies of vaccine later in the flu season. The second link describes how the shortage has been playing out as a personal issue in a presidential campaign otherwise dominated by war and terrorism. The third link goes to a New York Times piece which notes that the shortage follows decades of warnings from health experts about problems with the flu vaccine supply and distribution system. The fourth link leads to the Centers for Disease Control influenza information page and a broad range of information targeted to both consumers and health care professionals. The fifth link describes the negotiations underway between the U.S. and Canadian governments to allow importation of vaccine from Canada under FDA regulations. The last link is the home page of the American Medical Association conference on influenza vaccine held in April and includes links to all speakers' presentations in either pdf or PowerPoint formats.
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