Flu Shot Frenzy

As a parent of a 7-month-old and a 3-year-old I’m as concerned as anyone about either contracting influenza. But that said, the current fervor over influenza vaccine shortages strikes me as misplaced. Yes, the U.S. is short a little less than half of the 100-million doses it expected to have this flu season, but that isn’t exactly calamitous in historical terms, as this graph shows.

The number of fly vaccines given nearly tripled during the 1990s. We went from 30-million a year in 1990 to roughly 75-million in 2000. Given that the U.S. population didn’t climb commensurately during the period, what was the cause?

It was a combination of things, ranging from an aging population, to a successful marketing campaign from the CDC, to the arrival of SARS in 2002. Together all these factors got people thinking about something they long ignored: getting vaccinated against the flu each year.

The upshot, however, is that this year’s vaccine supply — 52-million doses — is roughly the same amount as was distributed in 1993. Far from being a calamity that year, it was just standard flu fare.

Will this year be different? It could, but it’s unlikely. Sure, if the current avian influenza circulating in Thailand and east Asia makes it here then things could be dreadful, but current flu vaccines would have minimal effect anyway, so that is really a non-issue.

Granted, there is bad news in here for someone, and that’s vaccine-maker Chiron. The U.S. will almost certainly work to approve other vaccine suppliers to diversify its supplies for the upcoming flu seasons. That is good for many would-be suppliers, including ID Biomedical, but it’s fever-inducing news indeed for Chiron given this screw-up.


  1. David Ascher says:

    Paul — nice blog. Could you turn on full text RSS feeds? Pretty please? 😉

  2. Thanks David. Hope things are well “there”. Yes, I can do that. Had thought about it before, but never got around to it. Will make the change …