As the number of swine flu cases burgeons in the United States, vaccine is coming online much slower than the government had anticipated. Vaccine manufacturers have notified officials that they can't make good on their targets, Anne Schuchat, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a press conference today.
As of Wednesday, some 11.4 million doses of the pandemic H1N1 vaccine were available. Just a few weeks ago, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that at least 40 million doses would be available by the end of October—and perhaps twice that. The new estimate is 30 million, perhaps a little less, Schuchat said today. She did not specify which manufacturers are having trouble meeting demand but cited lower-than-expected yields and rigorous quality-control measures as reasons for the delay. CDC has put a "vaccine locator" on the home page of its flu.gov Web site to help people find out where they can be vaccinated. But actually getting the shots may be "quite challenging," Schuchat conceded, as demand far outstrips supply at the moment.
The delays add to worries, voiced by some experts, that most of the vaccine won't be ready until after H1N1 peaks. There is now "widespread" influenza activity in 41 states, Schuchat said—that's four more than last week—and nationally, 6.1% of doctor's visits are for influenza-like illnesses, which she said is "very high for any time, and particularly in October." Mortality from influenza and pneumonia is also up, a survey in 122 cities has shown, and is now "above the epidemic threshold," Schuchat said. "All of these markers suggest to us that it's a very busy and very difficult flu season."