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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 December, 2003, 08:57 GMT
Children die as flu spreads in US
The US needs extra vaccine supplies
At least 20 children have died from the flu in the US states of Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

The outbreak of the Fujian strain of flu has hit now most US states.

US health officials are considering buying thousands of doses of flu vaccine from Britain because it is running short of supplies.

In a normal year 36,000 people die after catching flu in the US, but experts believe the numbers could double this year.

Running low

However, the BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says experts believe it is still too early to declare that an epidemic is under way.

We're having a flu season that's particularly early and particularly severe
Eduardo Sanchez, Commissioner of Health for the State of Texas

The main manufacturers of flu vaccine in the US say they have already distributed all their supplies - about 80 million doses - to doctors, hospitals and clinics.

But states are reporting they are already running low, and stocks could run out within days.

Last year, flu-vaccine manufacturers in America overproduced and had to scrap 12 million doses of the vaccine.

But this year, a combination of more cases of flu and an increase in the numbers choosing to have the flu jab has led to the shortage, experts said.

Alternative supplies

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was considering approaching the Chiron Corporation, which manufactures flu vaccine in Britain, in an attempt to secure extra supplies.

Its director, Dr Julie Gerberding, said the British vaccine used the same formula as those produced in America.

She said Chiron had about a half million doses of flu vaccine in the UK that might be available.

Dr Gerberding said: "We're aware that they have vaccine, and we're exploring whether or not we would be able to clear that vaccine for use in the United States in time to have any impact on this year's outbreak."

She said the CDC was working with the US Food and Drug Administration to explore ways of accessing supplies of vaccine from outside the US.

NHS 'unaffected'

Eduardo Sanchez, Commissioner of Health for the State of Texas, told the BBC: "It's not usual to look abroad for supplies.

"In the US, we tried to encourage more of our population to get their influenza vaccine, and we have been successful in doing that.

"But at the same time, by coincidence, we're having a flu season that's particularly early and particularly severe."

Rob Budge, a spokesman for Chiron UK, which has already supplied about 38 million doses to the US, told BBC News Online: "This is not taking away from UK supplies. It is extra material we have already produced."

And he said even if the deal with the US went ahead, it would not mean the UK could not access extra supplies if it too ran short.

"The US is quite a different marketplace. There are only two major suppliers for a very large market.

"In the UK, there are twice as many suppliers for a smaller market, so if more vaccine was needed, there would be more people to go to."

The BBC's Sophie Hutchinson
"It may be a common winter illness, but this year the flu has proved particularly deadly"

At-risk children 'need flu jabs'
02 Dec 03  |  Health
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Why flu can kill
06 Dec 02  |  Health

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