Officials scramble to find flu vaccine |

Officials scramble to find flu vaccine

County, state and national health officials started the scramble to replace California’s public flu vaccine drought this morning.

Faced with the nonshipment of the vaccine from England after a government shutdown of manufacturer Chiron Corp., counties are asking the private sector to begin filling the gap.

“It’s a lot of work just trying to get a handle on how much (vaccine) is in the county,” said Cheryl Montague, Nevada County’s Director of Nursing for the Community Health Department. “There’s more questions than answers.”

Montague and Norma Arceo of the California Department of Health Services both said people at-risk should be seeking the vaccine from doctors, clinics and services locally. People two to 64 years old and in good health are being asked to skip the vaccine this year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Arceo said the state is working with the CDC and alternate flu vaccine supplier Aventis Pasteur Inc. to plug the gap. The CDC said Aventis has shipped 30 million doses to the U.S. so far, with another 24 million coming.

A CDC stockpile helped fill a smaller shortage last year, Arceo said.

“There will be some vaccine, but were recommending at-risk individuals get it first.”

Those people are:

– All children six to 23 months.

– Anyone 65 or older.

– Anyone two to 64 who is pregnant, in a nursing home, a health care worker, a day care person working with kids under six months, or someone with a chronic condition.

Meanwhile, Chiron Corp. cut its profit forecast by more than half Tuesday after British health officials unexpectedly pulled the company’s license citing manufacturing problems. The snag, just as flu season was about to begin, underscores the risky nature of making vaccines.

The company was expected to deliver half the nation’s flu vaccine stockpile this year, and analysts said the business makes up about 25 percent of Chiron’s annual sales. Chiron’s shares plunged 19 percent.

British health officials notified Chiron executives overnight Tuesday that the company could not ship some 48 million flu shots from its Liverpool factory because of sterility concerns. Chiron said it has not shipped any of its Fluvirin vaccine and no recall was necessary.

Chiron cut its expected 2004 earnings from $1.50 to $1.60 a share to between 35 cents and 45 cents a share on Tuesday. Analysts estimated the missed flu season would cost Chiron about $400 million in sales.

“This will absolutely hammer earnings,” said Bank of America Securities analyst Mike King. “Making vaccines is a risky business.”

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