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flu vaccine forecast: 97 million doses

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    SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- In a best-case scenario, as many as 97 million doses of flu vaccine will be available in the U.S. starting in October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

    Four manufacturers will be delivering vaccine this year, the vast majority of which will be in injection form again, the agency said in its weekly report.

    But the CDC recommended a priority system to ensure those at highest risk of complications from the flu get vaccinated first because of uncertainty about the exact number of doses and the timing of their distribution.

    Last year, Chiron (CHIR: news, chart, profile) , one of the two U.S. flu-vaccine makers at the time, had manufacturing problems that cut off half the expected supply, sending health authorities scrambling to meet demand.

    This year, Chiron estimates it will contribute 18 million to 26 million doses of flu shots, and Sanofi Pasteur (SNY: news, chart, profile) projects it will supply 60 million doses, the CDC said.

    GlaxoSmithKline (GSK: news, chart, profile) was approved to sell its flu vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration Wednesday and expects to have 8 million doses available in the fall.

    MedImmune (MEDI: news, chart, profile) , which makes a nasal-spray version of the vaccine, forecasts production of 3 million doses for the 2005-2006 flu season, the CDC said. The vaccine, called FluMist, is meant for healthy people age 5 to 49 who aren't pregnant, the company said.

    The CDC recommended that vaccines be rationed through Oct. 24 so high-risk groups such as elderly people 65 and older, children ages 6 months to 23 months, pregnant women, nursing home residents, health-care workers, household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of babies under six months old can receive them first in the event of a supply disruption later on.

    "Beginning October 24, 2005, all persons will be eligible for vaccination," the CDC said in a statement.

    Vaccine delays or shortages have occurred in three of the last five U.S. flu seasons, the agency said. Flu season typically runs from October through March.
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