WASHINGTON - Administration officials sought on Monday to explain why so much less H1N1 flu vaccine is available than had been promised, blaming the manufacturers and the vagaries of science for nationwide shortages.
Public anxiety has surged as the swine flu sweeps across the country and doctors and clinics are forced to turn away many people. Confusion and frustration at immunization sites has increased the pressure on government officials and executives of the vaccine manufacturers to explain why optimistic pronouncements made last summer about the vaccine's availability ended up being so far off the mark.
In August, administration officials said companies could make almost 120 million doses by mid October. It outlined an aggressive response to the pandemic, spending more than $2 billion to buy 250 million doses of vaccine and promising enough to inoculate every American.
But only about 16.5 million doses have become available so far, putting top administration aides in an uncomfortable political position as they seek to respond to what President Barack Obama has declared a national emergency.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in television interviews Monday that officials had been "relying on the manufacturers to give us their numbers, and as soon as we got numbers we put them out to the public. It does appear now that those numbers were overly rosy."
Her deputy, Nicole Lurie, said in a separate interview with the Washington Post that when the companies "hit some stumbling blocks, they sometimes thought the fix was around the corner and didn't always feel the need to tell us, and then sometimes it turned out the fix wasn't around the corner."
Representatives of the companies said they kept the government informed along the way about challenges, including a slower-than-expected growth of the vaccine inside chicken eggs.
"We have a formal call with them once a week and are in touch with them probably on a daily basis," said Donna Cary, the top spokesperson for Sanofi Pasteur of Lyon, France.