NU Online News Service, Oct. 12, 2004, 2:37 p.m. EDT

Health Net Inc., Los Angeles, is joining the effort to cope with a shortage of standard, injectable influenza vaccine.[@@]

The managed care company has joined Aetna Inc., Hartford, and WellChoice Inc., New York, in publicly announcing that it will expand coverage for other types of influenza vaccines.

Under normal circumstances, Health Net covers the injectable Fluvirin flu vaccine but requires preauthorization for the FluMist nasal-spray vaccine and the injectable Fluzone PF vaccine.

This year, Health Net says it will lift the usual prior authorization procedures so that doctors can decide which type of flu vaccine, if any, is appropriate for their patients.

Production problems at the Fluvirin vaccine plant have raised the possibility that the world might suffer a vaccine shortage during the 2004-2005 flu season. Epidemiologists worry about the shortage, because upper respiratory viruses already are hitting patients hard in some regions of the world and treating viral infections is often difficult.

A 1918 flu epidemic killed more than 20 million people throughout the world, including many U.S. life insurance company employees, and scientists are not sure how effective modern medicine would be if a similar epidemic appeared today.