Glut Of Vaccine Doses As Swine Flu Winds Down

Governments around the world are returning their supplies of pandemic flu vaccine to manufacturers because there is a glut of tens of millions of doses. U.S. officials haven't canceled any orders, and they're still urging Americans to go out and get vaccinated.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

So Deb, did you ever get your swine flu vaccine?

DEBORAH AMOS, Host:

Not yet. Did you get yours?

INSKEEP: I finally did, because I've got a small child. And so we went the other day and there was absolutely no line. Nobody was getting it.

AMOS: Do people still need to get it?

INSKEEP: Well, U.S. government officials say that in fact you still do. Here's NPR's Richard Knox.

RICHARD KNOX: It's been a rollercoaster year for flu vaccine companies. Last spring, the U.S. government signed contracts for $1.5 billion worth of pandemic flu vaccine; then in the fall millions of Americans lined up to get shots but there wasn't enough vaccine to go around. Now that there's plenty, the bottom's dropped out of the flu vaccine market.

BRUCE GELLIN: When we made those contracts, that was obviously early in the game, when we didn't get a full understanding of how things were going to play out.

KNOX: That's Dr. Bruce Gellin, director of the National Vaccine Program Office. Gellin says he doesn't know how much more vaccine the government will buy. It's contracted for another $675 million worth.

GELLIN: Not all that vaccine has been made. So we still have vaccine coming in. They're still making vaccine and there's still demand out there. So I think that we need to be further along until we know what the final picture will be.

KNOX: Federal officials say they can tell manufacturers to stop making vaccine at any time and not have to pay for the rest of it. But the U.S. government is on the hook for what they've already ordered.

Donna Cary of Sanofi Pasteur says it's made all its U.S. vaccine.

DONNA CARY: The bulk of it has been shipped to the U.S. government. There are some final remaining shipments and we're doing that in accordance with the agreed-upon timelines with the U.S. government.

KNOX: Karen Lancaster of MedImmune, which supplies the FluMist nasal vaccine, says nothing about their contract has changed.

KAREN LANCASTER: We have completed manufacturing all of the bulk vaccine product. The majority of it has been delivered.

KNOX: But there are five vaccine makers who have U.S. contracts. I asked Federal Vaccine Director Gellin if some companies will be stuck with a vaccine that they can't sell that the government won't pay for.

GELLIN: I can't say, and it may vary company by company. That's a trickier question to answer, and particularly to say it about all companies.

KNOX: But there are two places companies might unload that unused vaccine. The U.S. government is prepared to buy 25 million doses for developing countries where pandemic flu is still spreading fast. And the bulk vaccine that hasn't been put into vials could be saved for next fall's seasonal flu vaccine as long as the flu virus doesn't mutate. If it does, all that excess vaccine will be worthless.

Richard Knox, NPR News.

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