Influenza vaccine scarce this year

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2004

Winning the battle against the flu is hard enough.

This year will be even harder.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) there is an unexpected shortage of the influenza vaccine this season.

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"We've had a lot of calls from people wanting the vaccine because we had such an early flu season last year," Crenshaw/Pike Public Health Department nursing supervisor Pam Williams said. "Once they start hearing about a shortage, they automatically want to call. We're asking everybody to hang in there and to give us about a week to find out what's going on. It's hard to predict what the flu is going to do. Are we going to have another early season? Is it going to be another hard hitter?"

As a result of the shortage, the department is requesting that all Alabama healthcare providers restrict their supplies of influenza vaccine to those at highest risk of having complications of influenza.

"We want to ensure that all available influenza vaccine for this season reaches those individuals at highest risk and healthcare workers who provide their direct care," Dr. Charles Woernle, who serves as assistant state health officer for disease control and prevention, said.

Williams said nearly 48 million doses of the influenza vaccine will not be distributed throughout the U.S. after Chiron Corp., one of the top two providers of the vaccine, had its manufacturing licenses pulled by British officials in August.

"Chiron deeply regrets that we will be unable to meet public health needs this season," Chiron CEO Howard Pien stated in a release last week.

Aventis Pasteur is the other major supplier of the influenza vaccine in the U.S.

Williams said just because the flu vaccine is scarce doesn't mean doctors can't provide treatment. In fact, she encourages individuals to visit the doctor at the first sign of flu-like symptoms.

"If you feel like you're getting a cold or the flu make sure that you seek a doctor as soon as possible," she said.

Williams also said there are ways of preventing the flu without receiving the vaccine.

"Cover your cough," she said. "Avoid a lot of large crowds during the flu season, eat a healthy diet and drink lots of fluids."

Due to the shortage, the ADPH has developed priority groups for vaccination with inactivated influenza vaccine this season include:

– All children aged six to 23 months

– Adults aged 65 years or older

– Persons aged two to 64 years with underlying chronic medical conditions

– All women who will be pregnant during influenza season

– Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities

– Children six month to 18 years of age with chronic aspirin therapy

– Healthcare workers with direct patient care and out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children aged less than six months

The ADPH is currently working with physicians, pharmacists and other vaccine providers through the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, the Alabama Pharmacy Association, the Alabama State Board of Pharmacy and the Alabama Retail Association to inform the public that flu shot will be restricted this season.

"We are asking that pharmacies delay their vaccine initiatives and then target them to high-risk individuals," state health officers Dr. Donald Williamson said. "Both small and large pharmacies have been very cooperative in directing all available influenza vaccine for this season to those individuals at highest risk and healthcare workers. We urge other healthy Alabamians to forgo or delay influenza vaccination this year."

The Crenshaw County Health Departments flu immunization days scheduled for Oct. 18, 20 and 27 are cancelled as a result of the shortage.