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Friday, March 5, 2021

Flu outbreak leaves widespread epidemic situation

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Please check back throughout the day for updates about a massive decision by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to alter how they distribute flu vaccines across the country.

Relief at the news came quickly, as many schools in the Northeast closed, parents ordered their children away from doctors’ offices and pharmacists scrambled to find places to fill prescriptions amid a flu outbreak.

Flu shots are distributed in two ways. During the winter months, more than half the country is placed in emergency production mode. Here, vaccines are mailed to hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices so people can get them quickly to inoculate themselves. That is helpful if the flu season turns out to be severe, as it has in the past.

But this year, the strain of flu circulating so far is not a particularly good match for the vaccine, making the vaccine less effective.

The other way many people get flu shots is from their own supply of flu vaccine, like when a doctor gives them one to protect against it, because of the shortage caused by the recent snowstorms. And since many children and adults have no other way to get a flu shot, this has become an important part of the emergency supply.

In other ways, too, the United States was more prepared than other countries to help respond to this outbreak. That’s due to America’s strong flu-supply chain.

Vaccine manufacturers have had ample supplies in the last two years — between 7 and 15 percent of the country’s annual vaccine production. The disease is circulating but only a portion of Americans have been vaccinated. This year, a third of the country was in emergency production, and because of the shortage of those supplies, a third of the vaccine was ineffective.

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