CDC asks some to forgo flu vaccination
The CDC released its list of those deemed at highest risk:
children ages 6-23 months
people over 65
people ages 2-64 years with chronic medical conditions
all women who will be pregnant during flu season
residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
children 6 months to 18 years of age on chronic aspirin therapy
health-care workers involved in patient care out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children younger than six months.
(CNN) -- Flu vaccines are being distributed for people considered most at risk this flu season according to new criteria released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency asked those who do not meet the criteria -- mostly healthy people between the ages of 2 and 64 -- to forgo vaccinations this year.
"There will be some people who may not be able to get vaccine who really need it," CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding told reporters during a conference call Tuesday.
People advised to get the vaccine include those older than 65 years of age, people with chronic diseases, residents of nursing homes, health-care workers, pregnant women and infants between the ages of six and 23 months.
CDC officials issued a new restricted definition of who should receive priority for flu vaccine that applies to an estimated 42 million to 52 million people.
The public health agency hopes to direct limited vaccine supplies to people who stand to benefit the most, Gerberding said.
The CDC is depending on voluntary responses and has received "wonderful reports of people stepping aside to protect the doses for those who need them the most," said Gerberding.
Those who do not receive the vaccine can help prevent infections by washing their hands, covering their mouth when they sneeze and avoiding close contact with people infected by the virus.
Since October 5, when Chiron Corp., one of the nation's two major suppliers of flu vaccine, announced it could not deliver flu vaccine this year over fears of contamination, the government has scrambled to determine who should receive the 55 million doses expected to be available in the United States.
British authorities shut down production at Chiron's Liverpool plant after investigating possible bacterial contamination. The company was supposed to deliver up to 48 million doses to the United States -- about half the total. Nearly all the rest is manufactured by the other major manufacturer, Aventis-Pasteur, Gerberding said.
The honor system
New shipments of the vaccine from Aventis-Pasteur -- combined with another 4.5 million doses that the CDC had already stockpiled for use -- will be distributed as high-priority areas are identified. The agency also has access to more than 1 million doses of FluMist, which is an oral vaccine.
CDC epidemiologists are planning to map flu's spread county by county to respond quickly to outbreaks. A new system to track sales of over-the-counter flu medication may also give epidemiologists early warning about where flu is, Gerberding said. The maps will also track the delivery of doses to counties nationwide as well as where the greatest need for vaccine exists.
"What we'll end up with in a few days is a comprehensive picture: who needs it, where are they, where is the vaccine and where is the disease," said Gerberding. "I think this helps us get the best possible match between the doses we have and the need people have for the product."
In addition, stocks of antiviral drugs -- ramantadine and tamiflu -- that can prevent or mitigate symptoms are also being bought, the CDC Web site states.
Authorities are depending on the honor system to limit the supplies to those who need it most.
"So far, we're seeing very good evidence it's working," Gerberding said.
She described as "heroes" those people who have agreed to step aside so that others can get the vaccine.