Flu shot distributions, by year, show a steady upward progression of vaccination by Americans. Centers for Disease Control

LEWISTON — Though at least some pharmacies in the Lewiston-Auburn area don’t yet have the flu vaccine designed for seniors, it appears to be a temporary problem.

There is no hitch getting most flu vaccines, officials said, only a few specialized ones that were delayed by a month while experts figured out how to reformulate them for maximum value.

It marked the first time since 2003 that the production of vaccines was held up to cope with changing flu viruses.

Caroline Cornish, the communications and public affairs manager for Maine Medical Center in Portland, said Thursday that demand for high-dose vaccines “is currently ahead of supply in some MaineHealth locations” but deliveries are continuing.

She said providers anticipate “there will be an adequate supply of vaccine this season.”

The Maine Centers for Disease Control said recently that while there was a delay in the Fluzone High-Dose influenza vaccine coming on the market this fall, it is available.

It said the vaccine “has been shipping to distributors and facilities that order directly from the manufacturer” since at least mid-September.

The French company that makes the seasonal flu vaccine for seniors, Sanofi Pasteur, said the delay was the result of the World Health Organization waiting an extra month this summer to decide which specific flu viruses to target this season.

The extra month added by scientists allowed them, officials said, to improve the vaccine match for a strain called A(H3N2) for people in the Northern Hemisphere, one of the strands they anticipate may pose a hazard this winter.

Once they got the green light, manufacturers began churning out the vaccine.

The company’s U.S. communications chief, Michael Szumera, said Thursday, “There are no shortages of Sanofi Pasteur vaccines.”

“We are currently producing approximately 70 million doses of seasonal influenza vaccine to support nationwide immunization campaigns,” he said.

The national Centers for Disease Control estimates nearly 170 million doses will be distributed in the U.S. this year by various manufacturers. That will be enough to meet the anticipated demand, officials said.

Szumera said his firm began shipping vaccines the week of Aug. 12 and plans to continue producing them through November.

Sanofi Pasteur could not begin manufacturing until WHO selected the strains to target and the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the choice.

While it appears there is no shortage nationally, there are reports that people in some parts of the country are unable to find the vaccine, including areas of Colorado, Wyoming and northern Indiana. Canada, too, has been experiencing a shortage of the vaccine.

The national Centers for Disease Control doesn’t specifically recommend that seniors get the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine.

But a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found it prevents flu about 25% more often among seniors. Another study found it appears to reduce hospital admissions for the flu.

The Fluzone High-Dose vaccine is licensed for people 65 years and older. It has a higher dose of the antigen that builds up the body’s immune response, offering better protection from the flu.

Public health experts recommend that nearly everyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu shot to help prevent or minimize the flu.

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for it to take full effect. To find a flu clinic, search your zip code on flushot.healthmap.org or cdc.gov/flu or search the listings on 211maine.org.


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