WASHINGTON Delivery of some swine flu vaccines has been delayed because companies cannot make it as fast as they had hoped, just as the virus has really started to spread, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.
The CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat said that while 40 million doses had been anticipated for the end of October, only about 28 to 30 million doses would be available.
"Yields for vaccine are lower than would be hoped," Schuchat said in a telephone briefing. "We unfortunately won't have as much at the end of this month as we had hoped to."
She also said deaths from H1N1 swine flu were above the epidemic threshold in some U.S. cities and states. H1N1 flu activity was widespread in 41 states, she said.
"It is unprecedented for this time of year to have the whole country having such high levels of activity," Schuchat said.
"There are now a total of 86 children under 18 who have died from the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus," she added. Many had died in recent weeks and the number was now higher than the usual number of child deaths in an entire flu season.
"These are very sobering statistics ... 43 deaths in one month is a lot," Schuchat said. "Some of these children have been totally healthy."
Older children were hardest hit, she said, with 16 deaths among 5- to 11-year-olds and 19 deaths in 12- to 17-year-olds.
The new virus, which emerged in March and was declared a pandemic in June, does not seem any deadlier than seasonal influenza. But it attacks a different age group -- older children and young adults, unlike seasonal flu, which affects mostly elderly people and kills up to 36,000 in a normal year.
And because hardly anyone has immunity, the H1N1 virus may infect far more people than seasonal flu does in a single season.
Schuchat said 15 percent to 20 percent of patients with H1N1 who needed to be hospitalized were requiring intensive care. "Influenza is widespread in the country and illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths continue to increase," she said.
The U.S. government has opted to roll out seasonal flu vaccine and H1N1 vaccines as they become available, which the CDC has said could make for a bumpy vaccination plan.
People need both vaccines to be protected from all the circulating viruses, although Schuchat says virtually all cases of influenza are due to the new H1N1 virus.
As of Wednesday, 11.4 million doses of H1N1 vaccine were available and 8 million had been ordered by states for distribution.
The U.S. government has ordered both types of flu vaccine from five companies: Sanofi-Aventis SA, CSL Ltd, Novartis AG, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca unit MedImmune.
Schuchat said 82 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine had been distributed, with a total of 114 million doses ordered. On Thursday CVS Caremark Corp said it would cut short its flu-shot clinics due to delivery delays.
"This is how influenza vaccine production often goes," Schuchat said. She said there should be widespread availability by November and advised people who wanted a vaccine but were having trouble finding one to keep trying.
(Editing by David Morgan and Anthony Boadle)