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Media Outlets Examine U.S. Plans For Leftover H1N1 Vaccine, Efforts To Keep Flu Vaccine Production On Track

After working to ensure the U.S. had access to enough H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine, health officials may now face a new dilemma – a vaccine surplus, the Associated Press reports. “Get ready for a huge flu-shot push as health officials try to rekindle interest in protection against this new influenza strain that, despite plummeting cases, still is threatening lives – even as they reassess just how much more vaccine needs to be shipped,” the news service writes. “How much demand this week brings will put the U.S. at a critical juncture: When is it time to halt the bottling of vaccine, so that too many unused doses don’t go to waste?”

The article examines the recent decisions by several countries to cancel or look for other options for their leftover vaccines. On Monday, the drugmaker CSL Ltd., announced the decision by the U.S. to more than halve its vaccine order. “The nation’s largest suppliers – Sanofi-Pasteur, Novartis and MedImmune – told The Associated Press that their orders were unchanged so far. But other countries already are looking to unload leftovers,” the news service writes (Neergaard, 1/12).

“Governments are torn between trying to encourage companies to make influenza vaccine and wasting money on doses that are never given,” Reuters writes. “But bulk antigen – the vaccine before it is put into a syringe – can be stored and might be used in next year’s seasonal vaccine” (Fox, 1/11).

“The danger is in turning off the spigot before we really know what the winter flu season looks like, what the demand is,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, according to the AP. “As long as there is demand, the good news is we will have a supply.” The AP writes that according to Sebelius, the surplus will allow the U.S. to soon begin shipping the “long-promised donation of 25 million doses [of H1N1 vaccines] to developing countries” (1/12).

In related news, the Wall Street Journal reports on the U.S. government’s involvement in bolstering up the nation’s egg supply to ensure timely flu vaccine production in the event of an emergency.

“Fertilized chicken eggs are a central ingredient in the making of flu shots. They serve as miniature incubators that help the virus multiply before it is inactivated and turned into vaccine,” the newspaper writes. “Sanofi-Aventis SA, a large vaccine maker, has been using as many as 600,000 eggs a day in its global swine-flu-vaccine production. GlaxoSmithKline PLC was using 800,000 a day at the peak of its production. Manufacturers get very few doses of swine-flu vaccine per egg – from less than one to four.”

The article describes the government’s efforts to protect several flu vaccine-related egg farms scattered across Pennsylvania. “In 2005, the U.S. classified these chicken barns as part of the nation’s ‘critical infrastructure,’ giving them a kind of top-secret status,” mainly out of concern “the egg farms could be targeted for terrorist attacks or struck by chicken-killing pathogens,” the newspaper writes. “To ensure it had enough eggs to meet pandemic-level demand, the government invested more than $44 million in the program over five years; more than 35 farms are now involved in this feathered Manhattan Project” (Whalen, 1/12).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.