Doctors miss chances to give flu vaccines
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Doctors are missing plenty of opportunities to vaccinate people against influenza every year, flu shot maker Sanofi-Pasteur said on Monday.
Sanofi said it has evidence that 25 million high-risk people visited a doctor every year during recent flu seasons and did not get a flu shot.
Flu vaccine makers told a meeting in Atlanta that they plan to make more vaccine than ever before for the U.S. market, and start delivering it as early as August so people can get vaccinated as soon as possible.
And makers said they were also tweaking their vaccines to make them more appealing to consumers, with one company focusing on needle-averse schoolchildren and another offering a jab free of a controversial mercury preservative and possible allergy-provoking latex.
Flu vaccine makers say they will provide up to 146 million doses of vaccine to the U.S. market for the upcoming 2008-2009 flu season. This would cover less than half of the U.S. population but every year some vaccine gets wasted as people fail to get vaccinated.
Sanofi Pasteur Inc. said it could prepare 50 million doses for the coming flu season; Novartis said it would make 40 million; GlaxoSmithKline said it could make 35 million to 38 million doses.
Australia-based CSL Biotherapies said it was tripling its production to 6 million doses, and said 90 percent would be in prefilled syringes free of the mercury-based preservative thimerosal and also free of latex allergens.
The company said it was preparing to open a "fast filling syringe line" in Kankakee, Illinois.
And MedImmune is tripling production of its nasal vaccine FluMist to 12 million doses and says it is working with schools to get children vaccinated.
The company, owned by AstraZeneca Plc, said it has a more secure market for its vaccine now that annual flu vaccination is recommended for virtually all U.S. children.
Sanofi told the meeting, sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association, that doctors and patients are missing opportunities to get vaccinated every year.
It used an electronic physician insurance claims database to show that in the past three years, an average of 25 million patients a year are seeing doctors in the 18 weeks between November and the end of February but not getting flu vaccines even though they are in the groups advised to get immunized.
"They are actually already in the office -- they just aren't being offered vaccines," Sanofi's Donna Cary said in a telephone interview.
The CDC says anyone over the age of 65, people with chronic diseases, caregivers of high-risk people, pregnant women and children ages 6 months or older should all get the flu vaccine.
The seasonal flu vaccine must be re-formulated every year and people need to be re-vaccinated every year because flu viruses mutate constantly.
This year, the three different flu strains used in the vaccine are being completely replaced because they have changed so much.
The CDC said flu kills about 36,000 people and sends 200,000 into the hospital in the United States annually, and the World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 to 500,000 people die from flu each year.
But only a fraction of the people who should get flu shots do. The CDC says only 40 percent of doctors, nurses and other health care workers get the shot, putting themselves and patients at risk.
(Editing by Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman)