AstraZeneca, after prior issues with FluMist, ramps up production in response to pandemic

Ahead of a critical flu season, AstraZeneca is upping its manufacturing efforts to deliver more FluMist doses than previously anticipated, joining the top flu vaccine manufacturers in a push to deliver about 200 million doses.

After shipping just 757,000 doses of its nasal flu vaccine to the U.S. last flu season, the company is planning to produce nearly 8 million doses this year, a spokesman said. It joins other top flu vaccine players Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and Seqirus in efforts to boost flu vaccine manufacturing for the 2020-2021 season. Those companies plan to ship a combined 190 million doses. 

In all, the nearly 200 million flu vaccine doses will represent a sizable jump versus prior years as healthcare officials urge vaccination amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, manufacturers distributed 175 million doses, a record.

Last flu season, AstraZeneca ran into manufacturing problems related to the World Health Organization’s delayed strain recommendations, a spokesman said. Before that, an important CDC committee recommended against the nasal flu vaccine—popular with people who prefer to avoid needles—due to low efficacy.

After changing its strain selection process, the company has scored recommendations from the committee since 2018. During the 2018-2019 flu season, the company produced 2.7 million doses for the U.S.

RELATED: AZ got past FluMist's efficacy woes, but now it's plagued by production problems 

Now, AstraZeneca says it’s ready to go for the upcoming season. The company expects to boost manufacturing by 25% versus original expectations, and most doses should be available by the end of September. The company “increased manufacturing capacity and accelerated vaccine development to ensure we can confidently meet the needs of consumers and the healthcare system,” Mina Makar, a respiratory and immunology executive for AZ in the U.S., said in a statement

Previously, a Sanofi flu expert said in an interview that the company plans to ship 80 million flu vaccine doses to the U.S. this season. A Seqirus exec said the company plans to ship 57 million doses while GlaxoSmithKline is aiming for 50 million doses, a spokesman said. 

RELATED: Flu shot makers gear up—and get creative—for a critical vaccination season 

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, healthcare experts worry this year’s flu season could put an extra burden on healthcare systems and have urged vaccination for Americans 6 months and older.

But getting vaccines to people worried about contracting COVID-19 may pose a challenge this year. Experts have said they’re exploring ways to reduce contact during vaccinations, such as curbside or parking lot immunizations and one-way traffic in clinics.