10/07/04 — Flu-shot clinics canceled due to national shortage

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Flu-shot clinics canceled due to national shortage

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on October 7, 2004 2:02 PM

From staff and AP reports

Flu shot clinics in North Carolina, including those in Wayne County, have been canceled as public health officials take steps to make sure those most vulnerable get the vaccine in the wake of a national shortage.

Among those most at risk are elderly people, very young children and others at greatest risk of death or serious side effect from the flu.

The shortage developed suddenly this week when British regulators shut down Chiron Corp., one of the world's main flu shot manufacturers, citing production problems. That canceled delivery of roughly 46 million doses to the United States, or about half this nation's supply.

Another vaccine maker, Aventis Pasteur, was to supply most of the doses ordered for North Carolina. But North Carolina health officials said Wednesday that those deliveries may be delayed or reduced as federal officials determine the best way to distribute those doses.

In Wayne County, the shortage has caused one local pediatric group to cancel a flu shot clinic that had been planned for next month, but physicians say there is no cause for alarm.

Dr. Joseph Ponzi of Goldsboro Pediatrics said this is the same issue that was faced last year. Despite not having an unlimited supply of the vaccine, there is no reason to fear an epidemic, he said.

"In terms of influenza, it's a significant illness, but generally kids do OK," he said.

He said Goldsboro Ped-iatrics has begun giving out the vaccines and is following the guidelines of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In terms of patients seen at his practice, that means children between the ages of six months and 23 months old are eligible to receive the shot.

Others on the list recommended by the CDC include adults over 65 years old, anyone between 2 and 64 years old with underlying chronic medical conditions, and pregnant women.

Another option, Ponzi said, is the nasal vaccination or mist. It costs more but the supply may be easier to get.

Ponzi also noted that in cases where a patient is given two doses of the vaccine, doctors will likely reserve the second dose as the result of the shortage.

"We're following the rules right now," he said. "We'll just try to do what the CDC says is the most reasonable thing to do."

Meanwhile, businesses around the state are also canceling employee flu vaccinations.

On Wednesday, First Citizen Bank's 5,000 employees learned that only those at high risk for complications will be eligible for the vaccine. The bank began giving flu shots to workers last week and is now trying to assess how much is left for those most in need, said spokeswoman Barbara Thompson.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced that it had suspended all its flu clinics in workplaces, including its own. The Chapel Hill health insurance company also won't offer free flu shots to all its 3 million members as promised last month. Only those who meet CDC guidelines will be eligible, the insurer said.

Wake County Human Services announced it was canceling its flu clinics and marshaling existing supplies to people in the high-risk groups. Pharmacies, too, are either canceling clinics or screening customers to conserve vaccine.

Policing the system to make sure healthy people aren't cutting in line will be difficult. The state's Division of Public Health cannot mandate where the shots go. Instead, the situation depends on the public's honesty.

"We are very optimistic about the cooperation we will have from the public and providers," said Dr. Leah Devlin, state health director. "If we get good information to the public, they will be responsive and responsible."

Vaccine supplies have run short in three of the past five years, sometimes causing delays for healthy people seeking shots.

But this year's shortage appears to be worse, said D.C. Lucchesi, spokesman for the Mecklenburg County Health Department.

"To my knowledge, this is the first time we've ever suggested health people go ahead and skip this year," he said.

Fear of missing out caused long waits at flu-shot clinics Wednesday. A line snaked down the main aisle and into the parking lot of a Kerr Drug in Raleigh. Before getting to the front of the line, vaccine seekers were asked to fill out a "Flu Immunization High Risk Assessment."

Dorothy Cousins, 74, checked the over-65 box; Paul Alexander, a builder in Cary, said he suffers from chronic bronchitis; David Perkinson, a retired government worker, is diabetic, has heart disease and is over 65. His doctor said he had no vaccine and directed Perkinson to find a clinic.