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Flu vaccine scarce; officials worried

Persons counting on a vaccine to help them avoid the flu this winter will most likely have to rely on some other method to avoid the illness because the world’s vaccine supply has been cut in half.
The shortage has physicians concerned.
‘We won’t be getting any,’ said Dr. Bruce Burton of Corydon.
Last year, Burton received and administered 300 doses of the influenza vaccine, and he was expecting to have 300 again this year.
‘Half of the supply is gone,’ he said. ‘It won’t be available.’
Burton learned late last week that his order won’t be filled.
The shortage came after the Chiron Corp., one of just two manufacturers of the flu vaccine in the world, had its license temporarily suspended. Chiron had planned to distribute 46 million to 48 million doses of the vaccine in the United States.
That leaves an estimated 55.4 million vaccines, produced by Aventis Pasteur, which includes one million more doses that the manufacturer decided later to make.
Burton said the shortage prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to intervene in an attempt to make sure persons who are at high risk receive the vaccine. He said that group includes:
‘ Adults 65 and older
‘ Children six months to 23 months
‘ Persons with chronic diseases
‘ Women in their second or third trimester of pregnancy
‘ Healthy people, especially health-care workers, who might transmit the flu to at-risk people
‘ Anybody who lives in a chronic-face facility

Last year, the flu claimed the lives of 1,000 Hoosiers.
But Harrison Countians who are at risk may have trouble locating any place to get their flu shot.
Marilyn Sauerheber of the Harrison County Health Dept. said last week that she hasn’t heard a word about the 800 doses of the vaccine she ordered in March. Many of the doses were for young children.
‘I don’t know if we’re going to get any,’ she said. ‘We were told (then) it would be here in early October.’
The health department was expecting the same number of doses it had received the previous year.
In a letter issued last week, the Indiana State Dept. of Health said it had ordered 85,000 doses of the vaccine to be used this year by local health departments and health-care providers that participate in the Vaccines for Children Program (VFC). Only 18,330 doses had been received.
‘The amount of vaccine distributed to providers will be rationed based on the amount of influenza vaccine ordered by each site during the 2003-04 influenza season,’ the letter said. ‘Health-care providers will receive approximately 30 percent of last year’s doses ordered, or a minimum of 10 doses.’
Davis Drugs in Corydon had to cancel a flu clinic it had scheduled for yesterday (Tuesday) due to the shortage.
Sauerheber and Burton are hoping that physicians who do receive their orders of the influenza vaccine will share some with those whose orders aren’t filled so at-risk persons can be vaccinated.
Burton said the public has a responsibility, too, not to get a flu shot if they are not in the high-risk category.
‘If we do get some, we will adhere to CDC guidelines on who gets them,’ Sauerheber said.
U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., who introduced the Flu Protection Act after last year’s shortage, had asked the Centers for Disease Control last week to explain how there could be a shortage again this year.
‘The CDC had every chance to get this right after last year’s shortage, and they failed on nearly all levels,’ Bayh said in a statement released last week. ‘Instead of enacting far-reaching reforms that offered a real solution to the problem, they tried to gloss over the danger by addressing only a potential production shortage.
‘Unfortunately, we are all impacted by this failure, as parents find themselves worrying once again whether or not their children will receive a flu shot and our nation’s seniors are left vulnerable. The CDC must be held accountable.’
The Flu Protection Act called for:
The CDC to develop a contingency plan in case of future shortages;
Significant incentives to be offered to encourage vaccine production;
Funds set aside to encourage the creation of additional vaccine companies with faster production times;
Greater cooperation between the government and vaccine manufacturers to provide a more accurate estimate on the number of vaccines needed each year.
There are other options to persons who might have preferred a flu shot. Burton said there is another vaccine called ‘FluMist’ that is costly, and he’s not sure if all health insurance providers pay for it.
There are also medications that can be taken if someone realizes early enough that they have been exposed to influenza, he said.
There are preventive steps everyone can take to reduce their chances of contracting the flu. They include washing hands, good respiratory hygiene, and staying home from work or school when sick so as not to infect others.
Influenza, like other serious respiratory illnesses, is spread by coughing and sneezing and unclean hands. Persons should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. When a tissue is not available, they should use their sleeve, not their hands. Discard used tissues promptly, and wash hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.