For the first time, the government will stockpile flu shots (search) for children to avoid the vaccine shortages that caught health officials off-guard this past winter.
"We really failed to foresee the influenza vaccine shortage this year. We were caught with our pants down," said Lance Rodewald, director of the immunization services division for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (search).
About 4 million doses will be set aside for children up to 18 years old, the CDC's Dr. Stephen Cochi said Tuesday.
The government plans to spend $80 million over the next two years to pay for the stockpile, said Cochi, acting director of the national immunization program.
In an alarmingly severe start to the recent flu season, parents rushed to doctors' offices seeking the shots for their children as emergency rooms were flooded with sick kids. Influenza was blamed for dozens of child deaths by Christmas.
While the government is setting aside flu shots for children, some adults may be allowed to tap into the supply during a crisis, if approved by Congress, Rodewald said.
Despite its severe start, this past flu season turned out to be fairly typical, the government said last week. This season 143 children died of the flu, which is about average, Cochi said.
Most of the children had no health problems before getting the flu, and most had not received a flu shot.
In an average year, the disease infects up to 20 percent of the U.S. population, killing about 36,000 Americans and hospitalizing 114,000.
This past flu season started a little earlier and peaked earlier than usual — between late November and December — then declined rapidly through February, the CDC's preliminary review indicates.