Flu Vaccine Demand Spawns Shot Shortage

By Sharmina Manandhar
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009

WASHINGTON - People did what health officials encouraged them to do -- they went out and got their flu vaccines.

But that diligence has caused a shortage of both seasonal and 2009 H1N1 vaccines that prompted canceled clinics and immunization programs.

Health officials are now advising residents to check with multiple sources of inoculations, as more vaccines become available in coming weeks.

St. Mary's County Health Department canceled Tuesday's flu clinic due to lack of both seasonal and H1N1 vaccines, said Karen Everett, county health department spokeswoman.

The health department "hopes" to get additional seasonal flu vaccines and "anticipates" getting H1N1 vaccines shortly, Everett said, and encouraged visits to "other outlets in the community" for vaccines.

Residents should not worry if they cannot get seasonal flu vaccines in October, she said.

"People can get the vaccines in the next three months, before the seasonal flu typically peaks in January," Everett said.

Anne Arundel County Health Department conducted a seasonal flu clinic Tuesday with "great turnout" and has two more scheduled for coming weeks where the vaccines will be provided until "the supplies run out," said spokeswoman Elin Jones.

The county has run out of H1N1 vaccines, after just two weeks of providing them.

Anne Arundel will now provide free H1N1 shots only by appointment to county residents in priority groups: pregnant women; people living with or caring for children younger than 6 months old; health care and emergency medical services workers; 6-months-to-24-year-olds; and 25-to-64-year-olds with chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Fear of the H1N1 pandemic is driving turnout, Jones said.

"People are concerned about flu due to the fear of H1N1, so more people are aware of the flu season," Jones said. "It is also in the news every day with more information on flu prevention than last year."

Seasonal flu clinics at CVS pharmacy stores will only run through Thursday because of "manufacturer delays in the delivery of the vaccine due to heavy demand compared to last year," said Mike DeAngelis, CVS spokesman.

However, CVS will continue to provide injections for the remainder of the flu season in its 20 MinuteClinics in the Baltimore and Beltway area. Minneapolis-based MinuteClinic is a subsidiary of CVS Caremark Corporation.

The demand for seasonal flu vaccine is higher than normal "likely due in part to the current situation regarding 2009 H1N1," said Tom Skinner, public affairs officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 114 million doses of seasonal flu vaccines were licensed to be manufactured this year and so far about 82 million doses have gone out, Skinner said. Last year, 113 million doses were distributed nationwide.

"Manufacturers had to readjust some of their timeline for the delivery of the seasonal flu vaccines because of the H1N1 vaccine production," Skinner said.

About 6 million doses of H1N1 vaccines have been shipped nationwide as of last week, according to the CDC Web site.

Skinner described the vaccine distribution as an ongoing process with more vaccines to be available "as soon as possible." He suggested residents check with several providers.

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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