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Many will have to wait for flu shots

October 07, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL and SCOTT BUTKI

shappell@herald-mail.com
scottb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Homewood at Williamsport encourages its residents and employees to get the influenza vaccine because they are a "high risk population," but they are going to have to wait a bit longer than expected to get the shots this year, Julie Cunningham, resident nurse supervisor, said Wednesday night.

The facility was notified Wednesday that the flu vaccine won't be available as soon as expected, she said.

Health departments across the country, including the Washington County Health Department, were scrambling to find flu vaccine after learning that British regulators on Tuesday unexpectedly shut down a major supplier, Chiron Corp.

That held up the 46 million doses, destined for the United States, at the factory in England where the vaccine was made. Manufacturing problems apparently led to the contamination of a portion of those doses.

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As a result, the Washington County Health Department has indefinitely delayed its flu vaccination clinics, which were slated to begin this month, said Rod MacRae, health department spokesman. MacRae said vaccinations were to begin within days at nursing home facilities and by the end of the month at public clinics.

MacRae said all of the local health department's orders for flu vaccine for the 2004-2005 flu season were routed to the Chiron Corporation.

MacRae said he believes another vendor will be found as a result of efforts by the local health department, the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's not as if there is zero vaccine available, it's just that it puts us in a position to find another vendor," MacRae said. "A number of others in the country are now in the same position."

Getting the flu vaccine is important to Homewood at Williamsport residents, especially the nursing home section, which has about 180 residents, Cunningham said.

She said she does not expect the residents to have any problems because of the delay. It helps to know the Washington County Health Department considers getting the vaccine to the center's elderly population a major priority, she said.

Fred Otto, 79, former executive director of the Washington County Commission on Aging, said the delay might cause some of the older county residents to worry because of the importance of getting the shot.

"I am sure there will be some anxiety about that for those who have been getting the flu vaccination," Otto said Wednesday night.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the United Kingdom banned Chiron from manufacturing the flu vaccine at its Liverpool facility for three months, which will prevent the release of the vaccine for the upcoming flu season, according to the CDC's Web site.

The country's vaccine supply now will be dependent on companies such as Aventis Pasteur Inc., scheduled to produce about 54 million doses, and Medimmune, scheduled to manufacture 1.1 million doses of an alternative nasal spray vaccine called FluMist, according to the CDC Web site.

The site identified the following as "priority groups" for vaccination in light of vaccine shortages:

· All children who are between 6 months old and 23 months old.

· Adults who are more than 65 years old.

· Those suffering from underlying chronic medical conditions.

· All woman who will be pregnant during the influenza season.

· Residents who live in nursing homes/long-term care facilities.

· Children between 6 months old and 18 years old who are on chronic aspirin therapy.

· Health-care employees who are involved in direct patient care.

n· Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children who are younger than 6 months old.

The CDC has said that about 36,000 people in the U.S. die from influenza and related complications annually, with more than 110,000 additional people requiring hospitalization from symptoms.

Last year, demand for flu vaccinations and cases reported skyrocketed in Washington County. MacRae said the increases likely were influenced by media coverage and word of mouth about the expected "high potency" of last year's flu bug.

The department ran out of its 6,000-shot supply of flu vaccine by December 2003 because of high demand, he said.

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