Friday, September 28, 2001

Price squeeze forces state to limit flu shots

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

        The Ohio Health Department will buy fewer flu vaccines this year and tighten restrictions on who can get flu shots at local health departments because of a sharp increase in price, officials said Thursday.

        The cost of one dose of vaccine has jumped from $1.85 in 1999 to $4.49 this year, said department spokesman Jay Carey. Only one vaccine manufacturer bid for the Ohio contract this year, compared with two in 2000.

        “What we have is a dramatic increase in price,” Mr. Carey said. “Because of this increase in cost, ODH is not able to purchase as many doses as it has in the past and as many as it would like to.”

        The department will restrict flu shots given by local health departments to people 65 years and older or those who have chronic diseases or compromised immune systems.

        “There's not enough to hit younger people or people who are not ill,” Mr. Carey said.

        However, he said flu shots may be available to those people at doctor's offices, hospitals and pharmacies that have their own supplies of the vaccine.

        Mr. Carey said the health department still encourages people age 50 to 64 to get flu shots. “But they're going to have to go to their physicians or some other provider,” he said.

        There are 140 health departments around the state, at least one in every county.

        “It certainly will have an impact on us if we're going to get fewer vaccines from the state,” said Tim Rumfield, administrator of the Pike County Health Department in rural southern Ohio. “We have a significant elderly population here. We're already getting calls.”

        Last year, the agency began ordering more vaccines from private suppliers to supplement the state vaccines so it could offer flu shots to everyone who wanted them. Mr. Rumfield said it is too late to increase the private order this year.

        Bill Wharton, spokesman for the Montgomery County health department in Dayton, said his agency receives vaccines from the state and other sources.

        “As far as I know, we're going to be OK for flu vaccines,” he said.

        Mr. Wharton said that while his agency stresses that highest-risk people receive the flu shots, it will probably offer it to others if it looks as if there will be enough vaccine.

        The flu kills about 20,000 people a year nationally. Those considered most at risk are people 65 and older or those suffering from chronic illnesses such as heart and lung disease, asthma or diabetes.


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