By Timothy Cox
The local impact of a nationwide influenza vaccine shortage remains uncertain, but local health officials are urging county residents to seek the flu shot only if absolutely necessary.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officials announced this week the entire stock of vaccine from one of two suppliers will not be available in the United States. Mercer County has some flu vaccine on hand and plans to give shots Oct. 12, 13 and 15, but future supply of the vaccine is expected to be curtailed.
"There has been a sudden cut in supply of the vaccine. Obviously, that trickles down to many of us," in the health care field, Health Commissioner Dr. Philip Masser said.
A CDC news release on Tuesday said the Chiron Corp.'s license to manufacture the vaccine in Liverpool, England, had been suspended, and the vaccine would not be available stateside. There still are about 55 million doses available from another supplier in the United States, the CDC statement said.
It remains uncertain how the shortage of vaccine might affect the health department, area hospitals and nursing homes and individual doctor's offices. The Ohio Department of Health on Wednesday attempted to allay concerns about a shortage in the Buckeye State. Ohio bought its supply of vaccine from the American company, and the department said shortages here will not be a problem.
Dr. Ed Hosbach said prior to the supply problems, CDC officials were calling for increased emphasis on vaccinating infants under 24 months and women who are pregnant during the flu season. Masser said the vaccine should now be limited to those in high-risk categories. Those include the elderly and chronically ill people of all ages, Masser said.
"We plead for everybody's patience," Masser said. "If you're not in one of those high-risk categories ... allow somebody else to get that vaccine."
Other people -- including health care workers who traditionally are vaccinated due to frequent exposure -- might have to wait or go entirely without the vaccination this flu season, Masser said.
"We have to pull back on our initial recommendations. I don't think we're real optimistic there's going to be adequate vaccine," Masser said. "I sure do wish we could get through a flu season uneventfully."
Other flu vaccine shortages have cropped up in recent years and one year the vaccine was not considered the best one to fight the most common strain of the virus that season.
There has been some speculation that existing doses of flu vaccine could possibly be diluted to be spread over a larger population. Masser said he was aware of the idea, but said he was unsure how the issue would unfold.