CDC chief says flu season off to a slow start

Thursday, October 28th 2004, 9:47 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Seeking to ease fears about flu vaccine shortages, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that the flu season is starting slowly.

The nation's flu shot supply was cut nearly in half earlier this month when flu shot maker Chiron announced it would not ship any of its 48 million doses of flu shots to America. British health officials suspended the company's license because of contamination problems in the Chiron's Liverpool plant.

Health officials have been trying to prioritize the remaining 22 million doses to get the shots to those who need them most. That includes children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Another 39 million doses already have been distributed.

CDC Director Julie Gerberding told a panel of the nation's top flu experts and CDC officials that in addition to the slow start of the flu season, this year's flu shot seems to be a good match to the strain of the virus most likely to affect Americans.

``I think we're off to a good start in fighting the flu this season,'' Gerberding said, adding that there is no way to predict whether the flu season will be mild or severe. Anti-viral drugs are used to treat people with the flu, and there are enough doses to treat 40 million people with the flu, she said. The CDC's Web site has been getting 300,000 hits a day from people looking for information about the flu, she added.

Meanwhile, officials with the Food and Drug Administration are looking to other countries for flu vaccine. About one million extra doses could be available by January, but the FDA first must inspect other countries' flu shot factories, said Dr. Norman Baylor of the FDA.

People receiving shots from those factories would have to sign a form saying they know the other county's flu shot is not licensed in the United States.

The flu season typically can start as early as October and last through March or April.