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You might get 2 flu shots in fall




WASHINGTON

Americans might have to line up twice next winter for flu shots — once for the regular jab and again later for swine flu protection.

There is no vaccine against the new strain of swine flu that’s rapidly spreading across the country. Nor has the government decided if it’s going to order full-scale production of one.

Regardless, expect to get the regular flu shot. Manufacturers already have a lot of it brewed in advance of fall inoculation campaigns.

“If a vaccine for this new virus is prepared, it would be prepared either in parallel with or after the seasonal vaccine is already produced,” Nancy Cox, flu chief at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said. “We would be able to have the seasonal vaccine and then if necessary as a supplemental” vaccine against the new swine flu virus.

Influenza vaccine production is a long, complicated process and vaccine makers already were in the midst of making about 130 million doses of next winter’s, plenty for usual demand.

The U.S. clearly expects experimental doses of a swine flu vaccine: CDC scientists and some collaborating laboratories hope to deliver to manufacturers in early May a virus strain properly engineered to be a vaccine candidate. It would take manufacturers another eight to 10 weeks to brew pilot lots for testing in small numbers of people this summer.

But the big decision, as health authorities debate how big a threat this new virus really is, is whether to order that large numbers of vaccines be brewed — and if so, if they would be administered quickly or stockpiled to see if the new flu makes a comeback.

Officials told Congress last week that if necessary, manufacturers have the capacity to produce two doses for every American — or 600 million total — within six months of beginning full-scale production. Usually one dose is sufficient for H1N1 influenza strains — the family to which this virus belongs — but human testing is necessary to be sure with this new strain.

Combining swine flu with the regular winter shot “was considered and won’t work,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, a vaccine advisor to the federal government.

Because swine flu vaccine would be rolled out gradually as more and more was produced, Schaffner said the challenge will be dealing with public confusion if people need separate vaccinations weeks or months apart.

“Maybe we should start tattooing the vaccine record on everybody’s fanny,” Schaffner said he quipped to colleagues. “Just organizing things will be enormously complex.”


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