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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today announced two unprecedented strategies for use this season to help healthcare providers continue efforts to vaccinate individuals at risk for the serious complications of influenza. In addition, in areas where there are ample supplies of influenza vaccine, CDC endorsed the efforts of state and local health officials to broaden the groups of people recommended to receive vaccine.
"Too many people who are at high risk for the serious complications of influenza are not vaccinated and quite frankly that is just tragic," said CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding. "Influenza season has not peaked and people can still benefit from vaccination. We're pulling out all the stops and doing everything we can to see that those who need vaccine most get it."
First, CDC is immediately making available the remaining 3.1 million doses of influenza vaccine in the federal government's emergency reserve to sanofi pasteur (i.e., formerly Aventis Pasteur), which, in turn will market and sell the vaccine to public and private providers. This strategy would allow providers to order vaccine directly from sanofi pasteur or a vaccine distributor, rather than working through state or local health departments. Doses purchased in this way may be used in any person. A key feature of this strategy is a vaccine "return policy," under which providers will be allowed to return unused vaccine for a credit and will have financial responsibility for return shipping costs only.
Second, CDC is taking steps for the remainder of this flu season to make limited amounts of Vaccines for Children program (VFC) influenza vaccine that currently exists within states available to state health departments for non-VFC use where the demand for influenza vaccine among VFC eligible children has already been met. Typically, use of vaccine purchased under the VFC program is limited to children 18 years of age and under that are Medicaid eligible, uninsured (i.e., have no health insurance), or are American Indian or Alaskan Native.
The two strategies only apply to the current influenza season and this year's influenza vaccine.
In states where there is ample supply of influenza vaccine, CDC supports those jurisdictions that wish to expand vaccination beyond groups routinely recommended to receive vaccine. "While we continue to stress the importance of high priority groups receiving vaccine, we certainly don't want vaccine to go unused," Dr. Gerberding said. "The return policy enables providers to continue their influenza vaccination efforts without having to worry about being responsible for the cost of unused vaccine."
Influenza activity in the United States had remained relatively low into December but has been steadily increasing since mid-December. As of mid-January, 24 states were reporting widespread or regional flu activity.