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Chiron

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expects to manufacture 13 million to 15 million doses of its flu vaccine for the U.S. market, making good on its forecast that Fluvirin production would fall short of the estimates made earlier in the year.

Even with reduced output from Chiron, however, the supply of flu vaccine in the U.S. will easily exceed the 61 million doses available during the 2004-2005 flu season

when manufacturing problems at a U.K. plant forced Chiron to cancel all U.S. vaccine sales. Chiron had been counted on by U.S. public health officials for 48 million to 50 million doses during the 2004-2005 season.

Chiron has shipped around 13 million doses of Fluvirin so far, company spokeswoman Alison Marquiss said Thursday. An estimated 1 million to 2 million additional doses could be shipped in January, but "orders are not firm," she said.

In October, Chiron

said it wouldn't meet the 18-million to 26-million dose range that it had forecast in June for the current U.S. flu season. The June estimate represented a downward revision from the 25-million to 30-million doses that Chiron had predicted earlier in the year.

For the current flu season, three other vaccine-makers are providing about 72 million doses, meaning the U.S. supply should reach at least 85 million doses. Several weeks ago, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the total amount of flu vaccine should meet the traditional demand, which is usually in the range of 70 million to 75 million doses.

The biggest flu vaccine provider is

Sanofi-Aventis

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, which had shipped 58 million doses by November and will send another 3.5 million doses in January for a stockpile established by the CDC.

GlaxoSmithKline

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has shipped 7.6 million doses, and

MedImmune

(MEDI)

is providing about 3 million doses of its nasal spray vaccine.

Even though most people get their flu shots in October and November, the disease usually peaks in January or February. "So getting an influenza vaccination in December or later can be very beneficial," the CDC says.

Novartis

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, the owner of about 44% of Chiron's stock, has an offer on the table to buy the rest of the company's shares for $45 each.