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Over 100 million flu vaccine doses to be available this year

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- With more than 100 million doses of flu vaccine expected to be available in the United States this year, anyone who wants it should be able to get it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in September.

This year's predicted total is 17 million more doses than the previous high, in 2003, and 19 million doses more than last year's total, the CDC said.

Between 85 and 90 percent will go to the private sector, at wholesale prices of as little as $11.20 per dose, and doctors should be receiving them next month, said CDC spokesman Curtis Allen.

In 2004, vaccine was in short supply in the United States after Chiron Corp.'s license to produce the vaccine was suspended when contaminated doses were found at its Liverpool, England facility.

This year, four manufacturers are in the business: sanofi pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline, MedImmune and Novartis, which has bought Chiron.

The vaccine makers are betting that Americans will roll up their sleeves in unprecedented numbers.

"If they cannot sell that number of doses, those doses will be destroyed and they will have to take a loss," Allen said.

Last year, about 4.8 million of the 86 million doses manufactured wound up being thrown out, he said. Still, the demand could be there. More than 200 million Americans are at high risk of contracting influenza or are likely to come into close contact with high-risk individuals and therefore should consider taking the vaccine, he said.

"CDC anticipates that they will be able to ship without problems with their plants," Allen said. "However, influenza production can be unpredictable, and we've learned that in the past few years."

"It's often very difficult to predict how much vaccine will be distributed and when, or exactly when influenza vaccine will be available for those who provide it," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director. "However, if the manufacturers' estimates hold, more people than ever before will be able to protect themselves and their loved ones from influenza this year."

The CDC, citing information from manufacturers, said about 75 million doses will be distributed by the end of October; which would be about 15 million more doses than were distributed by that time last year.

The vaccine is recommended particularly for health care providers, children between 6 months and 5 years of age, people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease, and people 50 years old and older.

The best time for vaccination is October and November, before the influenza season typically begins.

But vaccination can still provide protection in December and later, because influenza cases typically do not peak until February or later.

Each year, between 5 and 20 percent of U.S. residents become infected with influenza, about 36,000 people die of it and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized.

The best time for vaccination is October and November, but any time during flu season offers some protection.



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