The repercussions of the flu vaccine shortage

As we have all heard, the big news is the flu vaccine shortage by half. Last year, 87 million got vaccinated. This year the demand was expected to be even higher, but only 54 million of the inactivated vaccine and 2 million of the live FluMist are available. The efficacy data of the flu vaccine is well-established.

With healthy adults, a systematic review showed a significant decrease in days of work missed.

More importantly in the elderly, the vaccine decreased mortality, as well as hospital and outpatient visits for pneumonia and influenza. It also decreased death and hospitalization for influenza and pneumonia in those with chronic disease (i.e. stroke, rheumatologic disease, diabetes, heart, lung, kidney disease).

Due to the mortality and morbidity benefits of the vaccine in specific populations, it is suggested that administration of the vaccine be targeted to all adults over the age of 50 years, residents of long-term care facilities, others at high risk for complications of influenza due to underlying chronic diseases, and pregnant women in the second and third trimester. It is important to note that the live FluMist does not apply to any of these groups – which certainly limits its use.

The data strongly supports getting the remaining vaccine to these groups from a public health standpoint. This is why rationing the remaining vaccine is being talked about. With a full supply of flushots, vaccination rates in the elderly were around 70 percent. The shortage will push this number lower, increasing mortality, hospitalizations and office visits – obviously taxing the health-care system in an already busy time. The cost will almost certainly go far beyond the financial damage to Chiron.

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