WASHINGTON – There's still time to get a flu shot. Federal health officials reminded people Monday that the flu season usually doesn't peak until February or later. There's more than enough vaccine to go around.
Demand for flu shots typically tapers off after Thanksgiving.
A record 110 million to 115 million flu shots are expected to be available this year; millions are likely to be discarded at the end of the flu season. The shots are brewed fresh before each season to match the strains of the flu virus expected to be most prevalent, and cannot be saved year to year.
That so much could go to waste worries health officials, since lackluster demand for seasonal flu vaccine may discourage manufacturers from making as much in the future. That could create shortages of regular flu vaccine and could discourage vaccine manufacturers from being ready to produce a pandemic vaccine, if needed.
"We need to increase demand, both for public health purposes and to assure an adequate market continues," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said.
Of the nation's 300 million people, 218 million are covered by the government's flu shot recommendations.
Although it's too early to tell how bad the flu season will be, this year's vaccine is a good match for the influenza viruses now circulating, said Dr. Bruce Gellin, head of the federal vaccine policy office. Health officials won't know until after the season how many people actually received the vaccine.
On Monday, acting Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu received a flu shot in front of reporters to demonstrate there's still time for others to do so, too.
Health and Human Services officials had asked Moritsugu a "week or two" ago to wait until Monday to receive the shot, department spokeswoman Christina Pearson said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu shots be given to children ages 6 months to 5 years, as well as to pregnant women, people 50 and older and those of all ages with chronic health conditions, along with a few other groups.
Gellin said the United States almost has a sufficiently robust supply of vaccine to broaden the recommendations.
In a typical year, 10 percent to 15 percent of the season's flu vaccine goes unused.
One manufacturer, MedImmune, hopes to receive expanded federal approval in May for its nasal flu vaccine. That would allow the vaccine, called FluMist, to be used in children as young as 1, company spokeswoman Karen Lancaster said.
FluMist can now be used in children 5 and older. Other vaccines may be used in younger children.