10/13/04 — Flu doses coming; doctor sees unncessary panic

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Flu doses coming; doctor sees unncessary panic

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 13, 2004 2:01 PM

North Carolina health officials will obtain about 70,000 doses of the flu vaccine over the next two weeks, offering some relief after the recent announcement that production at a vaccine manufacturer was shut down.

State Health Director Leah Devlin said this was good news and would especially help those most at risk.

Wayne County Health Director James Roosen said he did not know how many doses Wayne County would receive, "but it's good news that additional doses will be here within two weeks."

Health officials across the country are calling on healthy people to forgo the flu shot this year due to the limited availability of the vaccine. The expected supply of 100 million doses dwindled to half that last week when British regulators shut down Chiron Corp., one of the world's main flu-shot manufacturers. Aventis Pasteur, another vaccine maker, is supplying most of the doses ordered for North Carolina.

Meanwhile, doctors at Goldsboro Pediatrics are working to allay parents' fears over the vaccine shortage.

Dr. Joseph Ponzi of Goldsboro Pediatrics said there is no cause for alarm.

"Most kids will do OK with it," he said of the flu. "I personally have never had a kid critically ill with the flu."

That hasn't stopped panic from setting in among patients.

"We have had some moms really upset, crying in the office," he said.

Ponzi estimated that about half of the supply will not be delivered this year and many will not be vaccinated. He said that over the last few years, there has been a steady decline of the vaccine's availability.

"Last year we ordered 3,000 of the vaccines," he said. "Every year we run out and are supposed to get more."

Running short of the vaccine and the public's reaction that follows is becoming the norm, he said.

"It's a recurrent theme every October and November," Ponzi said.

He said the vaccine is typically given to children from six to 22 months old, which still leaves those 2 years old and up at risk. He said the flu often turns out to be a "nuisance infection" but nevertheless still creates havoc in the community.

Ponzi said his office has been inundated with calls, not only from concerned parents but from physicians' offices wanting to know if Goldsboro Pediatrics has any vaccines it can sell.

Ponzi said they do not and wouldn't be able to sell the vaccines anyway, because his office has to adhere to the guidelines of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to young children, the CDC's recommendation extends to include such chronic medical conditions as asthma, diabetes and rheumatic fever.

Despite the emphasis on the need for providing vaccines for residents most at risk, Ponzi said, it is important for clear heads to prevail.

"There are other things you can do," he said, suggesting the public take precautions to prevent the illness.

"Keep kids out of day care if you can," he said. "Frequent handwashing is also a really good idea.

"And if you get the flu, stay home; don't go to work or school with a fever."