Thursday, October 15th, 2009
Area hit by flu vaccine shortage
H1N1 vaccine arrives for high-risk population
By Shelley Grieshop
Mercer Health - one of the local providers of seasonal flu shots - has canceled all upcoming clinics due to a shortage of the vaccine.
Shortages also are being felt at health departments in Mercer and Auglaize counties as cases of the flu - most likely the H1N1 strain (swine flu) - have become widespread locally and across the state.
There are two vaccines this year - one for the seasonal flu and one for H1N1. Seasonal flu vaccine shortages are being blamed on pharmaceutical companies who have switched to manufacturing the H1N1 vaccine.
Renee Kinney, director of wellness services for Mercer Health, said only a partial shipment of the seasonal flu vaccine was received by Mercer Health in September. A clinic scheduled for today and seven others slated this month all have been canceled until further notice.
Joyce Jansen of the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department said the department currently has no injectable vaccine for seasonal flu and are awaiting word about an order pending with the Ohio Department of Health.
Jansen said she currently has only about 60 doses of seasonal FluMist left, but it can only be given to people ages 2 to 49 or those with allergy or respiratory complications.
"We're hopeful we'll get more, we've got everything we've ordered so far," she added.
Jansen said Allen County Health Department received no seasonal flu vaccine this year and Auglaize and Van Wert counties ran out during their first clinic last month. Residents from those counties have come here looking for doses, she said.
Grand Lake Health System, which runs Joint Township hospital in St. Marys, does not distribute flu vaccines to the public, a spokeswoman confirmed this morning.
Jansen said the Mercer County health department recently received a small allocation of the H1N1 vaccine, but it is targeted for high-risk categories only, not the general public. Other H1N1 vaccine shipments are expected to arrive in the coming weeks, she added.
Health officials believe the flu strain most people are experiencing right now is the H1N1 variety, not the seasonal flu. However, testing for H1N1 is not advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unless a patient is hospitalized or there are large clusters of people exhibiting symptoms.
A recent announcement from Sanofi Pasteur, one of the four manufacturers of the seasonal flu vaccine, said the company is working at maximum capacity to produce 125 million doses in the time it takes to produce 50 million. Unfortunately, Pasteur noted, the company is struggling to manufacture two different types of influenza vaccines at the same time.
The current seasonal flu vaccine shortage may not be a huge problem if shipments come in the near future. Local doctors often advise their patients to wait until November or later to receive the vaccines to insure their effectiveness through the entire flu season, which typically lasts through March in Ohio.
The public is advised to call ahead about vaccine availability prior to attending any flu clinics.
Health experts advise everyone to take precautions by covering their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing or doing so in their elbow; washing hands frequently with soap and water; avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth; avoid contact with sick people; and stay home at least 24 hours after a fever breaks.