Mich expects more flu vaccine this year

Published October 10, 2005

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan health officials expect to have more flu vaccine available this year than last season, but that would not help much if the state faced an outbreak of the bird flu now appearing in Asia.

The state may be better prepared for standard types of flu this season. An estimated 90 million to 100 million doses of flu vaccine are expected to be available nationwide, Dr. Dean Sienko, Michigan's acting chief medical executive, said yesterday.

That's up from about 50 to 60 million doses last season.

"We believe we will be in a better position this year than last year," Sienko said. "We hope to have a normal supply of vaccine this year."

But that vaccine is not considered effective against the avian flu, also called bird flu, that has killed at least 60 people in Asia and has prompted a mass slaughter of poultry in some parts of eastern Europe to prevent the spread of the virus.

Preparations to fight the virus have started in Michigan and across the United States. President Bush has talked to drug company executives about what it would take to speed up vaccine production.

Drills already are underway in some parts of Michigan to prepare for possible mass vaccinations against the bird flu if it becomes necessary, Sienko said. But more vaccine and anti-viral medication would be needed to fight it, he said.

Bird flu virus does not easily pass from person to person. But experts say it could mutate to a form that becomes a human flu virus that is highly contagious. That could trigger a pandemic, or large outbreak in many places at once.

State and local health officials, building on planning that began after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, are exploring where it would make the most sense to increase the availability of hospital beds and establish quarantine zones if they are needed.

"It's watching, waiting - and preparation," said David Fox, a spokesman for the Michigan State Medical Society.

For more typical strains of flu, Michigan's season normally does not peak until after Jan. 1. Health officials say it is too early to tell what sort of flu season to expect this year.