Makers of flu vaccine ship last of season's shots
Shortages reported in some areas
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- With Americans rushing to get flu shots amid a severe and early flu season, the two makers of the influenza vaccine said Friday that they have completed their shipments for the year.
Health officials said plenty of doses are still available at hospitals, HMOs and other health care facilities, though in some areas people may have to make an extra effort to find the vaccine.
Health officials said flu has set in early this year, especially in Colorado, where eight children with the disease have died. Some regions have reported vaccine shortages, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it would work with the manufacturers, state health departments and others to assess the vaccine supply.
"CDC is doing everything possible to assess the availability of flu vaccine to identify any locations that have supplies that may be able to be made available to locations that need vaccine," CDC director Julie Gerberding said in a written statement.
"This year it appears that many more people than in recent years received a flu shot during October and November, and unlike other years, there is high interest in obtaining flu shots into December."
The CDC said it is not unusual for the manufacturers to have shipped all of their vaccines by this time of year. If the nation were to run out of the vaccine, the manufacturers cannot produce any more vaccines in time for this year's flu season.
Officials advise people -- especially those at high risk, such as children or those over 50 -- to get a flu shot. The CDC also recommends the shot for children and adults with respiratory ailments, infants ages 6-23 months, and pregnant women who will be in their second or third trimester during flu season.
Scott Harper, an influenza specialist with the CDC, also urged anyone experiencing flulike symptoms to seek medical treatment.
"This is influenza, a virus that causes very severe illness. It's not the common cold," Harper told CNN.
Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, said he has seen a tremendous upswing of flu cases.
"The last week, there's been a big change here in Tennessee. All of a sudden emergency rooms, doctors' offices, nursing homes, day care centers -- all have had outbreaks of influenza," he said.
With the demand for the flu shot on the upsurge, there is another concern this flu season: A new strain of the virus has been detected, one that the vaccine does not fully protect against.
Harper said experts "expect some cross-protection" from the vaccine against the new strain, but there are no guarantees.
"Every once in a while," he said, "we see a season like this where strains don't match exactly."
Aventis Pasteur Inc., the nation's largest supplier of the flu vaccine, said it has shipped 43 million doses, all that it made.
"Recent outbreaks of influenza caused an unprecedented surge of vaccine orders late in the immunization season, and we were able to accommodate many late-season orders," said Michael Decker, an Aventis Pasteur vice president.
John Gallagher, a spokesman for Chiron Corp., said it has completed its shipment of about 40 million doses to distributors, which he said is not uncommon for this time of year.
"We sold everything," he said.
Another option is FluMist, a more expensive, inhaled version of the vaccine, which is recommended for healthy people between ages 5 and 49. There are more than 4 million doses of FluMist available, health officials said.
Each year, more than 36,000 Americans die of complications from influenza, according to the CDC. Flu symptoms include fever above 100 degrees, extreme tiredness, body aches, dry cough, sore throat and nasal congestion.
In a typical year, 70 million-75 million Americans receive a flu shot, and the United States has never used more than 80 million doses of the vaccine, according to the CDC.
As of Friday, the CDC said 13 state health departments are reporting widespread influenza cases, and 22 other states and New York City are reporting regional or local influenza cases.