Plenty of flu shots on way

Md. officials expect adequate supply of vaccine despite last year's shortage

November 03, 2005|By JULIE BELL | JULIE BELL,SUN REPORTER

Maryland officials insisted yesterday that flu vaccine will be plentiful this year and counseled patience for those who have been seeking shots.

They said the vaccine is arriving in installments, the result of manufacturing delays and a federal plan to ensure flu shots are distributed equitably across the country.

"Vaccine is coming in, but coming in later than expected," said Greg Reed, program manager for the Maryland Center for Immunization. "Thousands and thousands of [doses of] vaccine are coming into the state on a daily basis."

There have been no documented cases of flu in Maryland this season, Reed said. But there have been complaints of vaccine shortages that have forced postponement of some scheduled flu shot clinics, public and private.

Eleven of the state's 24 local health departments have received all the vaccine they ordered, while shipments continue to arrive at the others, Reed said.

The Baltimore City Health Department is among the latter. It has received 80 percent of the more than 3,000 doses it ordered, said Dr. Anne Bailowitz, who manages the city's immunization program. (For information on Baltimore City flu clinics, call 410-396-4454.)

The vaccine is for seasonal flu, not the avian strain that has been linked to about 60 deaths in Asia. Avian flu primarily has infected people who have direct contact with poultry. It is not believed to have spread from person to person.

The seasonal flu is a respiratory illness with symptoms that include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, a dry cough and muscle aches. Stomach symptoms may also occur, more frequently in children than adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, U.S. flu shots were in short supply early on because of contamination at an English manufacturing plant operated by Chiron Corp., which had been scheduled to supply nearly half the doses needed here.

As a result, federal and state officials asked that shots be limited to those most at risk -- the elderly, the chronically sick, babies and caregivers. The voluntary plan worked so well that by the end of the season, many providers had extra vaccine on hand. A relatively mild flu season also limited the public health impact of the shortage.

This year, with vaccine supplies more plentiful, health officials suggest people call their personal physicians to schedule a flu shot, enabling them to get a checkup while they are in the office. Those who don't have a doctor or want convenience can show up at scheduled government flu clinics -- which often offer free shots. They can also visit commercial storefront clinics or find out when shots are being offered at supermarkets and other retailers.

Dr. Michael P. Zimring, a Mercy Medical Center internist who had trouble getting flu vaccine a couple of weeks ago, said yesterday that he now has plenty.

"It's coming out the ceiling," he said. "I have it available for anybody who needs it."

Kaiser Permanente, the HMO operator that covers 497,000 people in the Baltimore-Washington region, also has plenty of vaccine, spokeswoman Amy Goodwin said. Kaiser offers free shots to its members during scheduled clinics at its 28 medical centers. Goodwin said members should call their center for details.

Elsewhere, some commercial flu shot providers are continuing to cut back on clinics or cancel them, partly because of the delayed shipments. Among them is Professional Flu Clinics, which has received about 10 percent of the vaccine it ordered so far nationwide, spokeswoman Gina Seamans said. The company's last scheduled Baltimore-area clinics will be offered today at 15 CVS stores.

Some retailers, she said, decided not to offer the shots after delays pushed back the start of the clinics by about three weeks this fall. The stores, which offer flu clinics during the fall to bring in shoppers, generally don't want to clog aisles with people waiting for shots once the holiday shopping season begins, Seamans said.

juliana.bell@baltsun.com

To find out more about government flu clinics in the area, call the local health department. A list of the departments and their phone numbers can be found at cha.state.md.us/html/local2.html

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