Good news and bad news on flu front
June 13, 2008 · Updated 11:50 AM
By PAT JENKINS
Good: The flu is being slow to raise its sickly head. Bad: There still isn't enough vaccine to help keep everyone from catching the bug.
Healthcare providers in King County, tasked with trying to stretch limited anti-influenza drugs, are seeing an apparently usual amount of the illness so far this flu season. As of Tuesday, only "sporadic" cases of flu had been reported, which is normal for this time of year, according to the Seattle-King County Public Health Department.
But the vaccine shortage, created when one of two major suppliers of the antidote to the U.S. was ordered to stop making it because of contamination problems, will continue to restrict immunizations here, statewide and nationally to only people who potentially suffer the worst from flu.
The Health Department said hospitals, public and private clinics and individual physicians countywide have received 34 percent of the adult doses they ordered. That number is expected to go no higher than about 50 percent.
The shortage won't be solved by the 10.3 million doses of vaccine that the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday will be distributed to states, including Washington. Officials said priority will still be given to high-risk individuals, such as children under 2 years old, adults 65 and older, anyone with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes and long-term care patients.
Some of the people in those categories showed up Wednesday at the Federal Way Senior Center for flu shots given by Visiting Nurse Services of the Northwest (VNSN). People began arriving more than four hours before the scheduled 1:30 p.m. start of the vaccinations, which actually started about an hour late. As many as 50 people at a time waited for shots.
VNSN, a Puget Sound-region home health agency based in Mountlake Terrace, is planning similar community events at the Tacoma Dome Nov. 16 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at Qwest Field Plaza in Seattle Nov. 30 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Additional information is available from VNSN at 1-800-449-2221 and www.vnsnw.com.
In addition to specially scheduled events like VNSN's, vaccinations are available from private physicians and clinics and Health Department clinics, including the one in Federal Way. Information on the county service is available at (206) 296-4949 and http://www.metrokc.gov/health/immunization/fluseason.htm.
Since mid-October, the Health Department has ordered healthcare providers to vaccinate only the high-risk categories of people. All reports are that the public has cooperated with that order, said James Apa, a department spokesman.
The department monitors flu through surveys of selected physicians and clinics around the county. They report all flu-like symptoms in their patients.
Whether flu becomes widespread the rest of this year and into 2005 is anybody's guess, Apa said. "Every flu season has its own personality in terms of severity and when it hits," he said.
People can protect themselves and others through hand-washing, staying home when ill and covering mouths when coughing, according to health officials.
Flu season usually peaks between November and March. The illness kills an estimated 36,000 Americans each year and sends about 200,000 to the hospital.
Federal health authorities announced in October that none of the flu vaccine manufactured by Chiron Corp. for the United States is safe for use. Bacteria was discovered among 50 million doses manufactured at Chiron's facility in England.
With Aventis Pasteur the lone major vaccine manufacturer still supplying the U.S., the country's overall supply has been cut in half.
Local, state and national health officials have urged anyone with low risks from the flu to forgo getting a shot for the benefit of those needing them most.
A bright note is the federally administered vaccination program for children. In King County, that program will ultimately receive more antidote this flu season than it did a year ago, Apa said. Officials earlier predicted that supply would be reduced this season.
Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, email@example.com