Flu vaccine manufacturers plan to ramp up production for next season

Tuesday, January 24th 2006, 2:26 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Expecting rising demand for flu shots, pharmaceutical companies are gearing up to produce as many as 120 million doses of vaccine for next flu season.

That far surpasses the record of 95 million doses produced in 2002.

Vaccine makers say their expectation seems warranted for a number of reasons, including public fears of avian flu, better government reimbursement for shots and indications that federal health officials may one day recommend flu shots for nearly everyone.

``We and other manufacturers are making the investments to ensure that there will be sustainable supplies going forward,'' said Andrew MacKnight, executive director of vaccine supply for GlaxoSmithKline, speaking at a flu vaccine summit meeting in Atlanta on Tuesday.

The manufacturers' projections could mean an end to the shortages that have worried patients and health care workers for the past three autumns.

``It's good news,'' said Glen Nowak, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Glaxo, which produced 7.5 million doses of flu vaccine last year, said it expects to distribute between 20 million and 30 million in the 2006-07 flu season. The company recently acquired plants in Canada and Pennsylvania and is expanding its plants in Dresden, Germany.

Sanofi Pasteur, the main vaccine producer for the 2005-06 season, broke ground last July on a vaccine plant in Swiftwater, Pa., to double the company's capacity.

The predictions were made at a two-day meeting in Atlanta to discuss the vaccine supply. It was co-hosted by the CDC and the American Medical Association.

Between 5 percent and 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu each year, according to the AMA. The illness leads to about 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year, according to federal officials.

The CDC recommends flu vaccinations for groups most at risk of complications, including the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. CDC officials said Tuesday they may expand the recommendation to include most children.

About 86 million doses of vaccine were produced for the current season in the United States, up from about 61 million in the 2004-05 flu season, according to the CDC.