ATLANTA – Flu vaccine manufacturers expect to make a record number of doses for next flu season despite concerns that demand may drop because this year's vaccine was largely ineffective.
The five companies that make flu vaccine for the U.S. market plan to make at least 143 million doses for the 2008-2009 season. They made 140 million doses for the current season — the worst in four years for adult deaths from flu and pneumonia.
Part of the problem was the vaccine didn't work well against the viruses that ended up circulating. Each year, health officials essentially make an educated guess and formulate a vaccine against three viruses. Their guess usually works well.
But two of the three strains for the current season were not good matches, and the vaccine was only 44 percent effective overall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Reports on that data "probably doesn't help us going into the flu season, when people are thinking 'It didn't really match so how can we rely that this vaccine's OK?'" said Paul Perreault, executive vice president of CSL Biotherapies, one of the five manufacturers.
Still, the company is tripling its production to 6 million doses, from 2 million. The company believes this fall's vaccination drive should be successful, due in part to education campaigns and a complete makeover of the vaccine, Perreault said.
Besides CSL Biotherapies, three companies make flu shots for the United States. Sanofi Pasteur Inc. is planning to make 50 million doses for the coming flu season; Novartis Vaccines, 40 million; GlaxoSmithKline PLC, 35 million to 38 million.
In addition, MedImmune Vaccines Inc. plans to make about 12 million doses of FluMist. That's a nasal mist containing live virus approved for healthy people between ages 2 and 49.
Manufacturers said this week they anticipate delivering much of their vaccines by the end of September.
Federal health officials have been expanding recommendations for annual flu shots, potentially ratcheting up demand. The biggest boost came in February, when an influential government advisory panel expanded annual flu shots recommendations to virtually all U.S. children except infants younger than 6 months and those with serious egg allergies. Previous recommendations focused on children under 5.
The action means about 30 million more children could be getting vaccinated, starting this year.
Public health leaders are expected to discuss the 2008-2009 flu season next week, at a national influenza vaccine summit meeting in Atlanta hosted by the CDC and the American Medical Association.
Each year, the flu results in 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths, according to official estimates. The elderly, young children and people with chronic illnesses are considered at greatest risk.