How Serious Is the Flu Vaccine Shortage?

This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," Oct. 18, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "On the Record" every weeknight at 10 p.m. ET!

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Tonight, a warning from the White House on this year’s flu shot.


TOMMY THOMPSON, SECRETARY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: We’re looking all over the regions to find out where there’s a shortage and we will redeploy the resources to make sure that the seniors get the vaccine first. So, if you are in an area that doesn’t have a vaccine right now, don’t wait in line and don’t get upset. Let us know and then we will try and redeploy the vaccine to those particular areas.


VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us from New York is Dr. Michael Caldwell, President of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. And here in Washington is Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Nice to see both of you.

Dr. Fauci, first of all, 36,000 people died last year when we had a vaccine. How serious is the shortage? I mean what’s realistic?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, it’s very difficult to make a prediction about what’s going to happen in a given year because flu is unpredictable. Sometimes it’s a good year. Sometimes it’s a bad year. But on average about 36,000 people die each year. Most of them, the vast majority, greater than 90-plus percent are 65 years old or greater.

But the fact that we have a shortage this year certainly is something that we need to take seriously and make sure that the people who are at the highest risk, namely elderly people, people with chronic diseases, infants and children between 6 months and 23 months get vaccinated as the high priority before people who are otherwise normal adult well people get vaccinated.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Caldwell, how do you characterize this shortage, I mean how serious?

DR. MICHAEL CALDWELL, DUTCHESS COUNTY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Unprecedented and we are quite concerned about it but Secretary Thompson is working with the state and the local health officials to identify where the vaccine is now and where the need is. And so, we’re really on the front lines doing everything we can.

But I want to emphasize that frail, elderly people should not go wait on line. I vaccinated nearly 1,300 people today in the city of Poughkeepsie and it is quite frazzling to see an elderly person come with their oxygen and say, "My oxygen lasts for an hour. How long is this going to take?" Well, I can tell you the lines are two hours long, so frail, elderly people please don’t risk your life for a flu vaccine. It’s not worth it.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Dr. Fauci, I mean we’re a very benevolent country and, of course, we all defer to the old and the sick, the elderly and the sick to get the flu shots but there’s also a wider ramification. Take a business, take even one person in a newsroom and all of a sudden everybody is sick with the flu.

FAUCI: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean factories, I mean this could hurt, I mean it’s very serious.

FAUCI: Yes. Well, that’s the reason why over the past three or four years we have been pushing very aggressively to try and get more and more people nationally vaccinated, not only people who stand to do poorly when they get sick, like the infants and the elderly, but just plain, normal people to have such a baseline level of immunity in the community that when you have a flu situation like you invariably have each year you wouldn’t have the kind of missed days of work economically or what have you.

But when you’re in a very acute situation the way we have now where there’s 50 percent of the expected doses not being available we need to do what was just said. We need to not panic, take it calmly and the CDC is working very closely with the vaccine producer Aventis Pasteur, who is giving us the vaccines.

VAN SUSTEREN: But we can’t get any more than what we have.

FAUCI: Well, you can squeeze out a couple of million more and that’s the reason why we say, I agree with the comment about not having the senior citizens waiting in line for a long period of time but there are about 20- some off plus million doses of vaccine that still need to be distributed so there is time to get vaccinated. There is still time.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Caldwell, is the reason for this shortage because the company simply there is not the profit margin because they don’t know how many vaccines will be used, how many they’ll have to throw away?

CALDWELL: Well, that’s a complex question and I think clearly now is the time to have a national conversation about how to do flu vaccine better. The citizens demand that we do a better job and there’s no question that this is just untenable. We cannot continue like this.

We at local public health departments have been dealing with vaccine shortages for a number of years, so this is really not new to us. It’s a wakeup call now to the country. We have to address it and I think they’re going to be hearing a lot from these elderly people. I just don’t want to see anyone get injured or die on these lines. Please. The best place to get the flu shot is in the privacy of your doctor’s office.

VAN SUSTEREN: And you’ve made that well known, no lines, just get it in your doctor’s office. Gentlemen, doctors, thank you both very much.

Content and Programming Copyright 2004 Fox News Network, L.L.C. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, L.L.C.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.