Thursday, Oct. 28

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American Airlines flying flu vaccines
for Illinois for free    
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[OCT. 28, 2004]  CHICAGO -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced Wednesday that American Airlines has agreed to provide free shipping for the nearly 300,000 doses of flu vaccine that Illinois has secured from wholesalers in Europe.

On Monday, after Blagojevich announced that Illinois had located its own supply of flu vaccine from wholesalers in Europe, American Airlines and the governor's office began discussing how to ship the supply from the United Kingdom to Illinois. By late Tuesday evening, American Airlines agreed to ship the entire supply -- free of charge -- to help Illinois provide vaccine to its citizens most vulnerable to the flu. As a result of American's offer, the flu vaccines secured by Blagojevich can be transported to Illinois immediately upon approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"In a time of crisis, some people and some companies rise to the occasion. That's clearly what American Airlines has done today," Blagojevich said. "By agreeing to ship our entire supply of flu vaccine to Illinois the minute the FDA gives its approval, American will help make sure that hundreds of thousands of senior citizens, young children and the chronically ill will get the flu shots they need, before the flu season arrives."

"When we heard that Illinois was in a position to provide flu vaccine for so many people in need, we wanted to do whatever we could to help," said Roger Frizzell, vice president for corporate communications for American Airlines. "Illinois is important to American Airlines, and the people of Illinois are important to American Airlines. We're going to make sure that their flu vaccine gets to Illinois quickly and safely."

After securing enough flu vaccine to cover Illinois' most vulnerable populations and after receiving the donation of transportation from American Airlines, all that stands in the way of providing the vaccine to people who need it is approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Blagojevich said he hopes to receive FDA approval by the end of the week.

The United States is facing a severe flu vaccine shortage as a result of problems found with doses produced by Chiron Corp., a manufacturer that was expected to produce nearly half of the 100 million doses needed for U.S. residents. Now the United States has only the 55 million doses of vaccine manufactured by its other supplier, the French drug maker Aventis Pasteur, to meet its entire demand, creating the shortage facing Illinois and every other state.

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The vaccine Gov. Blagojevich is seeking permission to use was manufactured by Aventis Pasteur in its facility in Lyon, France, for use in Canada and Europe. The vaccine is already packaged and can be shipped to Illinois and put to use within days -- in enough time to reduce the impact of the flu virus this winter in hundreds of thousands of sick, elderly and young individuals.

The FDA announced recently that it has asked Aventis Pasteur to manufacture an additional 2.6 million doses of vaccines to address shortages across the United States, but the new shots are not expected to be ready until January. Flu season in Illinois lasts from November to April, peaking in January and February. State health officials encourage the elderly and young children to get vaccinated early in the winter to allow the vaccine at least two weeks to become effective before peak season.

Gov. Blagojevich was able to quickly find the European vaccine by using the state's contacts with prescription drug suppliers in Europe who are providing medications for Illinois residents through the new I-SaveRx program. Blagojevich and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle launched I-SaveRx to help the nearly 13 million residents of Illinois and more than 5 million residents of Wisconsin save 25 percent to 50 percent on the cost of their prescription drugs. Illinois and Wisconsin residents can enroll in I-Save Rx by calling 1 (866) ISAVE33 or visiting www.I-SaveRx.net.

[News release from the governor's office]

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