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Press Briefing Transcript

Flu telebriefing with Dr. Keiji Fukuda

December 21, 2001

MS. HOSKINS: Thank you. Welcome to this afternoon's telebriefing. Our speaker today is Dr. Keiji Fukuda, who is an influenza expert here at CDC. Dr. Fukuda is going to talk about the current flu vaccine supply. He'll give brief opening remarks, and then that will be followed by Q and A.

Dr. Fukuda?

DR. FUKUDA: Thanks, K.D.

I will be very brief. I think that the main message that we'd like to get out there is there is plenty of flu vaccine available out there. We estimate that there are at least ten million doses available to providers for purchase, and these can be obtained from the main companies and distributors in the country.

I think that the other couple of messages that I'd like to get out there is that at this time of year we typically have a lot of people who really should be getting vaccine who remain unvaccinated. Typically, about half the people who are at high risk for influenza-related complications, serious complications, remain unvaccinated at this time.

And at this time, this season, influenza activity still remains relatively low. It is beginning to creep up a little bit, but it is still relatively low. And so if people can continue to vaccinate, especially these high-risk people at this time, we still stand a really excellent chance of preventing hospitalizations and death from influenza.

So, again, we really want to get the message out there. Plenty of vaccine is available. Providers should continue to vaccinate people,
especially those who are high risk from flu, and those people who are at high risk with those conditions really ought to continue seeking influenza vaccine.

So let me stop there, and I'll just throw it open.

AT&T MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 on your touch-tone phone. You will hear a tone indicating that you've been placed into queue, and you may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing the pound key. If you are using a speaker phone, please pick up the handset before pressing the number. And one moment for our first question.

If you do have a question or a comment, please press 1 at this time. We do have a question from the line of Tom Watkins with CNN. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Has there been any confusion among clinicians between concerns about signs of anthrax and flu symptoms?

DR. FUKUDA: Tom, I think that certainly several weeks ago there were a lot of questions raised about early inhalational anthrax and influenza symptoms. But I think that a lot of those concerns really have abated, especially as we haven't seen any new anthrax cases appearing.

CDC MODERATOR: The next question please?

AT&T MODERATOR: Again, if you do have a question or a comment, please press 1 at this time.

We do have a question from Marian Falco (ph) with CNN. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. I'm not sure--I'm hoping you can answer this. Are you meeting with postal workers from Brentwood and also from New York about vaccines? There's the issue of getting the anthrax vaccine. Are there meetings going on today?

DR. FUKUDA: Marian, I don't think I can comment on that. I'm not really involved in the anthrax vaccine issues, and so I'd really have to defer that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

DR. FUKUDA: Yes. Sorry.

QUESTION: That's all right.

AT&T MODERATOR: The next question will come from the line of Ira Drysis (ph) from AP Radio. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you think that the early warnings that there might be a delay in getting vaccine to folks have pushed down the readiness of people to actually go in and get their shots? Do you think there are folks out there who think, well, there probably isn't any or I've forgotten about it or it's too late? Is that what's behind this?

DR. FUKUDA: Well, I think that early in the season that the concerns about the vaccine delay, if anything, really spurred demand. But I think that what we're really seeing right now is that typically in the U.S., by the time you reach early November to mid-November, the demand for vaccine has traditionally died down. And so now that we're in the December period, it's really been more difficult to get the message out there that people ought to continue to get vaccinated.

And this year, we're really pushing that pretty hard, in part because there's much more vaccine available this year in total than there has been in previous years. And, again, there are just lots of people who remain unvaccinated out there. And so, you know, it really would be a shame to have that vaccine go wasted and to have these people with the--who are at high risk for the complications go unvaccinated.

So I think that it's not so much a problem with delay at this point as it is that we're just late in the year. And, traditionally, lots of physicians and lots of patients have sort of let influenza vaccine drop off their radar screen at this time of year. And there really is no reason for that to happen, and so that's the message that we're trying to get out.

QUESTION: Okay. Just to follow up, I take it that it's still a good match, and in your estimation how long with the flu season go so folks have an idea if they get the shot, how much good it will do them?

DR. FUKUDA: Sure. The match between the circulating viruses and the influenza vaccine appears to be very good. There have been a number of viruses which have been isolated and characterized, and the match is good. And I think that right now we appear to be fairly early in the season. Again, lots of flu viruses have been isolated in, I think, 25 states in the United States, and we are beginning to see more viruses isolated. But the levels are still pretty low, and so I think that, you know, we really--we clearly haven't seen the peak in the season yet, and we expect that to come sometime down the road. It's not possible to predict when that's going to happen or how long this particular season's going to go on. But we can say pretty clear that this is early, and if people get vaccinated now, the vaccine will, you know, confer protection for those people.

QUESTION: Thank you.

AT&T MODERATOR: And we have no further questions in queue. Please continue.

We do have a follow-up from the line of Tom Watkins. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: How does this year's demand compare with prior years? And what's the cost this year versus other years?

DR. FUKUDA: I think that we won't know what the final demand is for the total fees until, oh, I don't know, sometime later in 2002, because I think those figures aren't available. But I think anecdotally what it looks like is that early in the season the demand was pretty high, and I think that also anecdotally the demand for the season has carried over somewhat longer than it has in previous years. But, you know, at the end, we still don't know how much vaccine is going to be used, and so we won't know what the final demand was.

Tom, what was your second question?


DR. FUKUDA: Oh, cost. Vaccine is more expensive this year. You know, I think on average it's being sold at somewhere between five to six dollars a dose, somewhere in that neighborhood. I don't have exact prices for each of the companies. But this is a little bit more expensive than It has been in previous years.

QUESTION: And if they make too much of the stuff, does it go bad? Do you throw it out? Do you sell it to some other country?

DR. FUKUDA: Yeah, typically, the expiration date for the vaccine is in the summer. By the end of June the expiration date ends. And that's not really when the vaccine goes bad per se, but it's sort of a cut-off date for when this year's vaccine will be sold so it doesn't get confused with the upcoming season's vaccine.

QUESTION: And do they throw it out at the expiration date?

DR. FUKUDA: Yeah, typically--typically it will be thrown out.

QUESTION: And do the individual makers eat the difference or do they get reimbursed by the Feds?

DR. FUKUDA: They'll eat the difference.

AT&T MODERATOR: The next question will come from Marian Falco, CNN. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. I didn't know how to undo the question. Tom, my colleague at CNN, asked the exact question that I wanted. So I don't have any further questions. But thank you and happy holidays.

DR. FUKUDA: Thank you.

CDC MODERATOR: The next question will come from the line of Gail Burkham (ph) from Minneapolis Star Tribune. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Does it seem to be more of a problem this year that people are not going and getting vaccines--vaccinated this time of year?

DR. FUKUDA: I don't know if we can say that it's more of a problem this year than it has been in previous years. Again, I think that we're a little bit later out in the season, and we still have a lot of vaccine. In many years, by the time that we get into November, there is no more vaccine left. But this year we're in December, we still have about at least ten million doses of vaccine available. And, again, that's in large part because the absolute amount of vaccine that was produced this year is larger than it's ever been before.

QUESTION: It wasn't due to delays in shipment?

DR. FUKUDA: Well, the delays in the shipment really occurred earlier in the season, and I think that since (?)-ember, vaccine has really been coming out ahead of the demand.


CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please?

AT&T MODERATOR: We have no further questions in queue.

CDC MODERATOR: If there are no further questions, we thank you for participating in today's telebriefing. The transcript will be available online at 4:00 p.m.

AT&T MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude our conference today. Thank you for your participation and for using AT&T Executive Teleconference. You may now disconnect.

[Whereupon, the telebriefing was concluded.]


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