Health Dept. may cancel flu clinics

October 14, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The Washington County Health Department might have to cancel its annual influenza vaccination clinics as it grapples with a shortage of vaccine so severe that some residents at the highest risk of flu complications, including those 65 and older, might not get them this year, a health official said Wednesday.

No decision has been made about which people at high risk will get the vaccine and which ones will not, Health Department spokesman Rod MacRae said Wednesday.

That decision probably will not be made until the Health Department finds out how much vaccine it will receive this year, and when it will receive it, he said.


"That is very disheartening to hear," Ligia Teodorovici, long-term care ombudsman for the Washington County Commission on Aging, said Wednesday. "We are very disappointed, to say the least."

Teodorovici said it is crucial that people at high risk, especially those living in nursing homes, get the flu shot.

"It is vital. It is life and death for a lot of them. Their immune systems are jeopardized," she said.

At this time of year, the Commission on Aging usually fields phone calls from people asking about when they can get flu shots, Sandy Gaylor, nutrition program manager for the Commission on Aging, said.

But this year, the callers are concerned about whether they will be able to get the shots, she said.

"The difference is, usually they want to know when and where. This year, it is where and if. That is the big question: Am I going to get it?", Gaylor said.

About 18,000 Washington County residents are 65 or older, MacRae said.

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

MacRae said all of the local Health Department's orders for flu vaccine for the 2004-2005 flu season were routed to the Chiron Corp. Officials are trying to get vaccines from other sources, he said.

While county health departments that had more than one vaccine supplier have started providing flu shots to residents, Washington County does not know when it will get the vaccine or how much it will get, MacRae said.

Flu shot clinics were slated to begin this month. Last week MacRae said the clinics have been delayed indefinitely.

MacRae said Wednesday that instead of holding flu shot clinics this year, the Health Department is considering having "centralized dispensation," where only a select number of people can receive the flu shots at Health Department offices.

About 6,000 people received flu shots from the Health Department last year, he said. The Health Department usually accounts for about 10 percent of the flu shots given in the county, he said.

Gaylor said she is encouraging callers to watch the newspaper for announcements about how to get flu shots from sources other than the Health Department.

Nursing homes generally get their vaccine from multiple sources, so residents and employees will probably still get the vaccinations, Teodorovici said.

The Health Department said those at the highest risk of getting flu complications include:

· Children who are between 6 months and 23 months old.

· Adults 65 years old or older.

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

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

· Those suffering from underlying chronic medical conditions.

· 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.

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

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