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U.S. now has just one maker of flu vaccine

Wyeth has ended production of its pneumonia and influenza shots, increasing the country's vulnerability to vaccine shortages.

The pharmaceutical company wants to focus on new immunization technologies such as its experimental nasal spray flu vaccine. But the move means there will be only one company in the United States manufacturing a pneumonia vaccine and another one making an influenza vaccine. Over the last two flu seasons there has been a vaccine shortage.

"It's obviously a concern," Curtis Allen, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday. "The future will depend on the ability of the remaining manufacturers to increase production to meet the shortfall."

There is no U.S. shortage of influenza vaccine this winter, with about 93-million doses already produced, Allen said. He said there was no shortage of pneumonia vaccines but couldn't provide production data.

The flu vaccine is updated each year to combat the virus strains expected to circulate. Less pneumonia vaccine is needed because it is the same each year and lasts for several years.

Wyeth produced about 20-million doses of its FluShield this year, but still hasn't sold about 6-million, spokesman Doug Petkus said. Sales of its Pnu-Imune are considerably smaller, he added.

Ending production of the vaccines will allow Wyeth to reallocate resources to resolving the nine-month shortage of Prevnar, its pneumonia vaccine for young children, and winning regulatory approval for its nasal flu vaccine, FluMist, Petkus said.

Just a few years ago, four drug companies sold influenza vaccine in the United States. Wyeth is the second to drop out.

Wyeth said there was plenty of influenza vaccine available because other manufacturers recently increased production.

But Aventis Pasteur Inc. of Swiftwater, Pa., now the only company still making flu vaccine in the United States, this year produced the same amount for the U.S. market as last year, about 45-million doses, said spokesman Len Lavenda.

Company president Damian Braga said he was confident Aventis Pasteur, part of French drug giant Aventis SA, could make up any shortfall next year.

British vaccine maker PowderJect also sells flu vaccine in the U.S., providing roughly one-quarter of this year's supply. It has been slowly increasing production at its Liverpool manufacturing plant so it can make more than the 27-million doses manufactured this year, said spokesman Tim Anderson.

Anderson said PowderJect plans to make 8-million additional doses in 2003 but "can't expand production overnight" and expects U.S. demand for the vaccine to grow rapidly.

Meanwhile, Wyeth's pneumonia vaccine, Pnu-Imune 23, has been in short supply since February, Fox said.

The only other company selling a pneumonia vaccine here is Merck & Co. of Whitehouse Station.

Merck spokesmen did not return several calls seeking comment.