Influenza is associated with an average of 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States. Persons who are aged 65 and older, people with chronic medical conditions, children younger than 2 years, and pregnant women are more likely to get severe complications from influenza than other people. The best way to prevent influenza is to be vaccinated each fall. In early October 2004, one major manufacturer of flu vaccine for the United States announced that its facility's license had been temporarily suspended and it would not be releasing any vaccine for the 2004-2005 flu season. Because this manufacturer was expected to produce roughly one-half of the U.S. flu vaccine supply, the shortage resulting from its announcement has led to concern about the availability of flu vaccine, especially to those at high risk for flu-related complications. GAO was asked to discuss issues related to the supply, demand, and distribution of vaccine for this flu season in the context of the current shortage. GAO based this testimony on products we have issued since May 2001, as well as work we conducted to update key information.
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