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Shortage of flu vaccine, but local hospital officials say don’t worry

by Linda Hiller, staff writer

Flu vaccine supplies are coming up short again this fall, but one hospital official says it’s not likely to be a permanent situation worth worrying about for those wanting to be inoculated against last year’s top three influenza strains.

“It seems like every year there is a scare, so I don’t think people should get really alarmed about it,” said Norma Corder, Barton Memorial Hospital’s public relations director. “We will initially be vaccinating only those over 65 and high risk patients first, but the flu season actually starts in December, and I feel confident that by then we’ll have more doses.”

The announcement of the delay and shortage in this year’s supply came from the Nevada State Health Division, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC asked vaccine providers to develop a plan to vaccinate high-risk persons and health care workers first, Corder said.

“In response to the notice from the CDC, Barton Memorial Hospital presently will provide influenza vaccines to high-risk persons only,” she said. “High risk is defined as persons who are over 65, immunocompromised, or those who have certain chronic conditions. Patients must provide proof of age and for those who have chronic conditions, a letter from their physician is required.”

Corder said the shortage will change the upcoming Barton HealthCare System Flu Shot Program.

“On Oct. 7, during the Community Health Fair at the Carson Valley Medical Center in Gardnerville and at the Barton Memorial Hospital at South Lake Tahoe, Calif., we will only inoculate high risk persons,” she said. “Health care workers who might spread the flu to high risk patients will be eligible immediately for the flu vaccine.”

n About the flu. Influenza season is December to April. Influenza spreads when viruses pass from an infected person to the nose and throat of others. Symptoms are fever, cough, chills, sore throat, headache and muscle ache. Influenza can make people of any age ill, and although most people are only sick for a few days, others can require hospitalization. Thousands of people die each year from influenza-related illnesses, and the elderly are affected more than any other group, according to the CDC.

The viruses that cause influenza change often, so people who need the vaccine should get it every year. The vaccine begins to protect after one to two weeks and protection may last up to one year. The vaccine contains viruses that are the same or similar to those thought to be most likely to come to the U.S. this year.

“Each year’s vaccine is made from the three most serious strains of the past year – the ones that are considered ‘killer’ strains,” Corder said. “The shortage is due to some problem growing one of the strains this year; it hasn’t grown as well this year as last.”

Corder said Barton used around 7,000 doses of influenza vaccine last year.

“We’ve always gotten everything we’ve ordered, so my gut feeling is that people will get their flu shots, but maybe not right away,” Corder said. “Of course, it’s all so unpredictable, but I don’t think people need to panic.”

n Most important prevention. “This is a good year to think about ways to avoid the flu,” Corder added. “Wash your hands frequently, get plenty of rest and eat right. This is very important, especially for children who go to school and spread the virus. Kids need to be taught to wash their hands frequently.”

On Saturday, Oct. 7, the Carson Valley Medical Center Health Fair will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the Barton Flu Shot Program is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

As more vaccine becomes available, Barton will provide flu shots for healthy people over 18 and others who want to be vaccinated, Corder said.

The Carson Valley Medical Center is located at 1107 Highway 395 and Barton Memorial Hospital is located at 2170 South Ave., South Lake Tahoe.

For updated information on the influenza vaccine program, call the Barton Health Fair Hotline, 782-1500, ext. 3380, or (530) 542-3000, ext. 3380.

Laurie Burt, marketing coordinator for Carson-Tahoe Hospital, said she is also aware of the flu vaccine shortage nationally. Last year, she said, approximately 15,000 shots were given at C-TH.

They will be having their free flu shot clinics some time in November, as soon as vaccines arrive, according to Barbie Winchester, C-TH wellness coordinator.

“It is OK to get the shots in November,” she said. “The two week period after getting the shot is sufficient time to build up protection from the virus.”

The free shot clinics will be at Carson-Tahoe Hospital, 775 Fleishmann Way, the Minden Medical Center, 925 Ironwood Drive or the Carson Mall. For more information, call 885-4127.