Flu Vaccines Still Available; Supplies Being Monitored

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

There is still time to get an influenza vaccine that could protect you during the remainder of the 2012-2013 flu season.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.FDA has approved influenza vaccines from seven manufacturers, and collectively they have produced an estimated 135 million doses of this season’s flu vaccine for the U.S. So far, more than 128 million of those doses have been distributed, though not all of those doses have been administered yet, according to our sister agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

We have received reports that some consumers have found spot shortages of the vaccine. We are monitoring this situation and will update you at our Website and at www.flu.gov.

Consumers who are planning to be vaccinated can visit the latter site, click on “Flu Vaccine Finder,” enter their zip code and find a list of the clinics, supermarkets, pharmacies and other vaccine providers in their neighborhoods. Before you go, it’s wise to call ahead to confirm availability.

Health care providers can also search for vaccine by using the Influenza Vaccine Availability Tracking System (or IVATS), which is available online at http://www.preventinfluenza.org/ivats/ivats_healthcare.asp.

If you already have the flu, be assured that FDA is working to make sure that medicine to treat flu symptoms is available for all who need it. We do anticipate intermittent, temporary shortages of the oral suspension form of Tamiflu—the liquid version often prescribed for children—for the remainder of the flu season. However, FDA is working with the manufacturer to increase supply and reminding health care professionals that FDA-approved instructions on the label provide directions for pharmacists on how to compound a liquid form of Tamiflu from Tamiflu capsules.

Any Tamiflu shortages should be reported to FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at drugshortages@fda.hhs.gov.

The flu season usually peaks in January or February, but can extend as late as May. CDC recommends that all adults and children who are at least 6 months old receive a flu vaccine each year, with fall being the optimal time to get it. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to “kick in,” meaning the time it takes for your body to develop an immune response to provide protection from the flu.

Although the last year’s flu season was relatively mild, this season is turning out to be more severe. On the positive side, the vaccine is well matched this season to the circulating virus strains that are causing influenza. FDA’s preparations for this flu season began last year. In February, working with the World Health Organization and CDC to review influenza disease surveillance and laboratory data, and with the input of our advisory committee, FDA selected the influenza strains for the vaccine that is currently being used in the U.S.

So if you haven’t been already, get vaccinated. And mark your calendars for next fall; plans for the 2013/2014 flu season and the vaccine that will fight it are already underway. 

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration