A Fresh Dose of Flu Vaccine

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A nurse draws a flu vaccine destine for a patient at a clinic in Chicago, Illinois.

Just in time for the flu season, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new flu vaccine on Thursday, bringing the total number of flu shots manufactured in the U.S. to five. With the addition of the latest vaccine, the Department of Health and Human Services expects to have an unprecedented 110-115 million doses of the vaccine ready to protect Americans this winter.

The newest vaccine, called FluLaval, and distributed by GlaxoSmith Kline, is similar to the four other shots currently available (Fluzone, from Sanofi Pasteur and Connaught Laboratories; Fluvirin, from Novartis and Evans; FluMist , from MedImmune; and Fluarix, also from GlaxoSmith Kline). Like them, it is made by incubating strains of the influenza virus in chicken eggs. What it does contribute, however, are more doses of vaccine — a fact that federal health officials are especially keen on stressing, imm, since an unexpected shutdown of a major vaccine manufacturer in 2004 left the U.S. with a shortage of shots. "We are thrilled with the approval because it means more manufacturers and more products are on the market, which means we have more vaccine to protect the community," says Dr. Jeanne Santoli, deputy director of immunizations services at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Because it is a newcomer to the market, however, FluLaval is only approved for use in adults 18 or older. That's typical of new vaccines, says Santoli, since manufacturers often test their products in adults first, then move on to safety and efficacy trials in younger children with less developed immune systems.

With FluLaval, the US will have an additional 10-15 million doses of flu vaccine available, but Santoli notes that distributing the doses doesn't mean that they all get used. " Every year, we have more doses available than are administered, " she says. " We know that's an issue; that means that there are doses that go to waste. Last year, we distributed 81-82 million doses of vaccine, and we don't think that every dose was administered. We have work to do to make sure that these doses are used, and that people get as much protection and benefit out of the vaccines as possible. "

CDC is working on improving flu vaccination efforts, supporting employer-based vaccine programs, as well as college campus campaigns to get as many people as possible vaccinated before the worst of the winter weather hits. Getting vaccinated isn't a guarantee that you will fend off a bout with the flu, but it's a smart insurance policy against those aches and fever.