Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Flu shot ready - well, for some

High-risk groups told they'll have to wait

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With production delays limiting the supply of flu vaccine nationwide, many Tristate centers that serve high-risk people such as senior citizens are on a waiting list for shipments.

        Meanwhile, Greater Cincinnati grocery and pharmacy chains have received their shipments and launched flu shot campaigns. The result:

  For information on where to get the flu vaccine, call 931-SHOT, a service of the Health Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati.
        • The few flu shot locations open in October are getting swamped.

        • Some that won't start until next month have reservations filled until mid-December.

        • Others that have limited supplies are trying to avoid publicity to prevent a rush.

        “It's incredibly frustrating. I've had some places refuse to advertise on 931-SHOT for fear of being mobbed. That's never happened before,” said Sonya Hall, flu vaccine project director for the Health Collab orative of Greater Cincinnati, which offers the phone service.

        Manufacturing difficulties that began this year have delayed many flu shot campaigns by about a month.

        While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted enough vaccine — about 80 million doses — will be shipped to meet the need, officials note some people may have to wait until mid-December for shots.

        Now, arguments have started over who should be first in line.

        Influenza kills an estimated 20,000 people a year nationwide. Those at highest risk include nursing home residents, people over 65, health care workers and people with weak immune sys tems.

        But some vaccine shipments have gone to grocery store and pharmacy campaigns open to any adult. And some hospitals have received no flu vaccine for their workers, even though a few other workplace campaigns have started.

        “The whole thing doesn't make sense,” said Babe Dryfoose, an 83-year-old Tri state resident. “Before it goes to a grocery store, I think senior centers, hospitals and nursing homes should get it first.”

        Why some places have the vaccine but others don't isn't clear. Some programs may have been quicker to make orders. Some may have ordered promptly, but from a manufacturer that had more production trouble than others.

        Wyeth-Ayerst, one of three companies making flu vaccine this year, just started shipping last week. Like other makers, it had trouble making the part of the vaccine that covers Type A-Panama virus. It also was ordered to stop production to fix a problem spotted by an FDA inspection.

        “We're trying to be as equitable as possible among our regular customers,” spokesman Doug Petkus said. “We expect to ship all 24 million of our doses by Dec. 15.”

        The Ohio Department of Health, which buys vaccine for most of the local health departments statewide, received 180,000 doses in the past few days — about half its total shipment.

        Those doses likely will be available in the first week of November. Yet the full shipment could run into December.

        “Unfortunately, we have no control over how the manufacturers determine who gets the vaccine first,” state health department spokesman Randy Hertzer said.

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