Washington A group of top public health officials urged doctors Wednesday to turn down most healthy people who want flu shots before December, because the vaccine is in short supply.
The health officials want to save what's available for high-risk patients mainly the elderly and chronically ill and are urging them to get their flu shots as soon as possible.
Nearly one-quarter of the 75 million U.S. flu vaccine doses projected to handle this season's flu won't be ready until after Dec. 1 due to unexpected manufacturing problems.
That's close to the start of the season for flu, which normally causes about 20,000 premature deaths each year. The idea is for high-risk patients to get their shots fast and the rest to hold back.
It may not work. Some doctors say they can't get vaccines for their at-risk patients because companies that inoculate their employees and supermarket chains that offer shots to shoppers have gotten to distributors first.
Since distribution of the vaccines is a private enterprise, the effort to get the vaccine to those who need it most is strictly voluntary, said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, influenza epidemiology chief at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fukuda and Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, who appeared at a Washington press conference Wednesday with five major health organizations, called on doctors and nurses to comply with the "priority vaccination" schedule.
"Vaccinating 1 million elderly people prevents on average 900 deaths and 1,300 hospitalizations," Fukuda said.