Government panel recommends easing of flu-shot restrictions

BY LOUISE CHU

The Associated Press

ATLANTA – Two months after a flu vaccine shortage spread alarm across the country, a federal advisory panel last week recommended the government ease restrictions on the nation's supply and make shots available to everyone 50 and older.

The move was prompted by worries that tens of thousands of doses of flu vaccine might go to waste.

Some states are reporting a surplus of flu vaccine. One reason is that many elderly or chronically ill people did not even try to obtain a shot because they figured they would not be able to get one. Also, the flu season has been mild so far.

The recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices came during an emergency meeting. The CDC usually accepts the panel's recommendations.

The CDC should focus first on helping state and local health departments reallocate supplies to any facing shortages, and then work to allow more people to get flu shots, members of the panel said. The panel said the vaccine should be offered to younger adults and anyone in close contact with high-risk patients.

In October, the government recommended that healthy adults delay or skip a flu shot this season to save vaccine for the estimated 98 million people in the country who need it most the elderly, infants or those with chronic conditions. Those people are at highest risk of severe complications or death from the flu, which kills on average 36,000 people and hospitalizes 200,000 each year in the country.

The teleconference meeting was scheduled after a CDC study found that more than half of all elderly or chronically ill adults have not yet gotten a flu shot. The committee concluded that those people in the high-risk groups have not already sought a flu shot, they are unlikely to do so this season.

“Those at high risk have had that opportunity,” said Dr. Greg Poland, a committee member and Mayo Clinic flu specialist. “We are in danger of seesawing from a year when everybody's concerned there's no vaccine, to not using what we have.”

Daily Journal staff writer Michaela Gibson Morris contributed to this story.

Flu shots in Mississippi

The Mississippi State Department of Health is waiting for guidance from the CDC leadership before changing its current guidelines, which focus on protecting people over 65, the chronically ill, pregnant women, children under 2, and direct patient caregivers.