Officials scramble as U.S. flu vaccine supply cut in half

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U.S. health officials hurried to reserve all leftover flu vaccines for the seniors and other needy individuals after Britain shut down a major supplier Tuesday, cutting Americans' supply in half, just as the flu season is set to begin.

Officials, faced with a record shortage, ask healthy adults to delay or skip getting flu shots this season so that the elderly and others most vulnerable to the disease are given priority, said a doctor for the Mayo Clinic.

After British regulators suspended their license for three months, officials with second-leading supplier Chiron Corp. said it cannot ship its leading flu vaccine, Fluvirin, anywhere this year. This includes the 46 to 48 million doses planned to be sent to the United States.

The U.S. will receive its other 54 million flu shots from Aventis Pasteur, the world's leading flu vaccine supplier. Last year, Americans used more than 80 million doses of flu vaccine.

Officials may look into diluting Aventis' vaccine to get two doses out of each original shot after a small study a few years ago indicated this practice might provide protection, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief for the National Institute of Health.

The rest of the world also will likely suffer shortages, officials said.