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US says many gave up on getting flu shot

CDC tells those most at risk to keep trying

WASHINGTON -- Millions of Americans, frightened off by news reports of long lines or discouraged by their own failed attempts, have given up on getting flu shots this year, US health officials said yesterday.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are enough flu vaccines left for people who really need them and urged senior citizens and other priority groups to get the shots.

There is still time because the influenza season, which peaks in February, is off to a slow start and vaccines are still being distributed, CDC head Dr. Julie Gerberding said.

''Early in the season when there were long lines, people did get discouraged," Gerberding said at a news conference.

This year's vaccine supply was disrupted when one of two major makers, California's Chiron Corp., lost the license at its British manufacturing plant because of bacterial contamination and had to scrap 48 million doses.

That left the other manufacturers to try to make up as much of the gap as possible. Aventis has supplied most of the remaining 61 million doses that will be available, and the US government has arranged to buy several million more doses from GlaxoSmithKline's German supply, as needed.

The CDC estimates that 185 million Americans are either in the higher-risk categories -- over age 50, under age 2, pregnant, or having a chronic condition such as diabetes or the AIDS virus -- or are health care workers or caregivers who need to protect contacts from flu.

But many people who should get vaccinated fail to do so, and this year the CDC predicted that up to 50 million Americans who fall into the recommended category are expected to seek the vaccine.

The CDC and Harvard University researchers surveyed Americans and found that 63 percent of seniors and 46 percent of adults with chronic illnesses who tried to get the shot were able to. Half of those eligible did not try.

Gerberding said she was pleased with the statistics for children ages 6 to 23 months, who were this year for the first time added to the ''recommended" category for flu vaccine.

Many senior citizens think the vaccine can give them flu, Gerberding added. ''We know that vaccine does not cause flu," she said.

In an average year, influenza kills 36,000 people and puts 200,000 into the hospital in the United States.

The CDC has been working to redistribute flu shots, which are mostly bought and distributed by private groups and employers. Gerberding denied a report that government funds aimed at vaccinating poor children had been diverted to the flu vaccine efforts.

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