LIVERPOOL, England – At a public clinic, almost in the shadow of the Chiron plant near the Mersey River, a poster says to “make an appointment today for your free flu jab.”

Flu vaccine may be delayed in some locations, but the shortages America is seeing are not expected here, thanks in part to early action by British health officials.

Late this summer, at the first sign of new problems at the Chiron Corp.’s long-troubled plant, the British began searching for other suppliers of flu vaccine.

“When Chiron informed us of the potential problems at the end of August, we made contingency agreements,” said Alison Langley, a spokesperson for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the British equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Armed with essentially the same information, however, U.S. officials relied on Chiron’s early assurances that only a small portion of the vaccine from its Liverpool plant here was contaminated.

It was not until Oct. 5, when the British pulled Chiron’s license, that they knew half the U.S. flu vaccine supply had just disappeared, producing the lines and shortages the country is now enduring.

Compared with Americans, fewer people seek flu shots in England, where vaccinations are promoted primarily for children, those over 65, persons with HIV or other compromising conditions, and health-care workers.

“Most healthy people here don’t get a flu shot,” said Hugh Lamont, with the government’s Health Protection Agency.

The British could also fall back on a half-dozen other suppliers that had been pre-approved by British authorities. The United States had only one other major supplier, Aventis Pasteur.

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