WASHINGTON — Conceding that their original predictions about pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccine supplies were too optimistic, the government's top government health and safety officials today told vaccine-seekers to be patient — more is coming.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said Oct. 28 that they originally planned on having 120 million doses of the vaccine available for high risk groups by Oct. 15, but things haven't moved as quickly as they had hoped.
"Sharing those numbers set a bar that hasn't been met," Sebelius said at a press conference.
Sebelius said 23 million doses of vaccine have been produced and are ready, but orders have been placed for 250 million doses. Since Oct. 21, an additional 9 million doses have been manufactured, she said.
Explaining the delay, Sebelius said "The vaccines have taken longer to produce than many estimated."
Manufacturers told government officials they could produce the vaccine — from growing the virus to shipping it out — at a faster clip than they actually have been producing, she said.
First, the eggs used to grow the H1N1 virus have produced less virus than expected. Also, the companies making the vaccines had to quickly set up new production lines for the "fill and finish" end of vaccine production, and glitches in that process have caused lags, Sebelius said.
Even so, Sebelius said, more vaccine is becoming available every day. She advised those among the 155 million people who fall into the "high-risk" group and want vaccine to contact their local health departments if their doctors can't find it. She also suggested tracking state supply levels on www.flu.gov.
If limited vaccine supplies are the bad news, the good news is that the virus hasn't mutated since the spring, so the vaccine is still effective, Sebelius and Napolitano said. Also, the immune response kicks in after eight to 10 days, which is faster than scientists predicted.