Flu shots delayed by national shortage

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 9/27/00.

Criteria for flu shot

Due to a national shortage, people across the country will be forced to wait for their flu vaccines this year.

Because of the delay, criteria have been established for administering the vaccine once it arrives. If the shortage is not remedied and becomes severe, young, healthy people may not have an opportunity to get a flu shot this year.

Normally, the flu vaccine would arrive about now, and vaccinations would start in October. It takes about two weeks after the shot for maximum protection.

The delay this year is due to trouble in the manufacturing process. Each year, the vaccine is made by combining three strains of the flu, to protect people against the likely contagions this winter.

This year, a new strain of flu is proving difficult to grow, causing the national shortage. In addition, of the four companies that produce the vaccine, the Food and Drug Administration has closed two because of problems in their manufacturing process.

Paynesville Area Health Care System (PAHCS) ordered their vaccine last spring, according to clinic manager Rosemary Devlin. This early order should mean the vaccine will arrive as soon as possible.

At first, PAHCS officials were told the vaccine would arrive by October, but now that has been pushed back a month, until November.

Already patients used to getting their vaccine in October have called PAHCS for appointments. Devlin emphasized that this is a national problem, so patients aren't going to find the vaccine available anywhere else.

Ironically, over the years, health care officials have been encouraging more patients to get flu shots. Now, the supply of the vaccine will be delayed and may not be enough to meet the entire demand.

When the vaccine does arrive, criteria will be used to limit its use to people who are at high risk for complications from the flu. The Regional Communicable Disease Task Force - comprised of public health officials from Benton, Sherburne, and Stearns counties - set these guidelines based on the state's contingency plan.

Priority will be given to people above the age of 65, people who live in a long-term care facility, people who suffer from certain chronic conditions, and women in the latter stages of pregnancy.

People in this group will be the first to get the vaccine when it arrives, hopefully by November. "If they have any of the risk factors, they should schedule an appointment and get it," said Laura Odell, a Pharm.D. at PAHCS.

Next, priority will be given to care givers who come in contact with the people most at risk for influenza. This includes doctors, nurses, and staff at medical facilities as well as in-home care givers and the family members of people in high-risk categories.

Due to the potential shortage, vaccinations for the walking well are not a priority at this time. Walk-in vaccination clinics are not being planned. If enough vaccine arrives, these clinics could be held in December.

PAHCS will be following the criteria established by the county and state for administering the vaccine. The criteria are needed so that the most at-risk people across the country get the vaccine first. "We feel we have an obligation to do this the right way," explained J.D. Anderson, another Pharm.D. at PAHCS.

The criteria should insure that those most in danger of complications will be protected from the flu. Getting the flu, though, should just be an inconvenience to the healthy population.

Without the vaccine, people should be aware and use common sense precau-tions to avoid getting sick and spreading the disease. Precautions include not visiting a hospital or nursing home if a bout of the flu is going around and not going to work if you have the flu. Other precautions are to wash hands frequently, avoid sharing germs, minimize touching your face, and cover your nose when you cough or sneeze.

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