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Loss of Flu Vaccinations Affects Area Clinics

How will local health agencies deal with vaccine shortage?

At the request of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, health care agencies across the region have canceled community flu shot clinics and appointments until further notice.

Last week, health officials learned that the United States will only have about half of the expected number of flu vaccines available because of problems with overseas manufacturing of 48 million doses.

"We're trying to figure out what we do have and what is already out in the community," said Lucy Caldwell, Northern Virginia media contact for the Virginia Department of Health.

Caldwell explained that the department of health is attempting to prioritize the vaccines they do have, so the high risk population, as designated by the CDC, is taken care of.

The Virginia Department of Health was waiting on a pre-order of 110,000 doses of the adult flu vaccine that they had planned to distribute to local health departments. Those vaccines will not be arriving.

Earlier this month the department had urged people to go out and get the flu vaccine in preparation for another possible big flu season. Now, the department is asking those who do not meet the CDC's high risk profile to refrain from getting the vaccine so that those who really need it will be serviced.

"We're trying to take all measures to prevent people from the illness," said Caldwell. "We know it's a difficult thing to ask people."

Caldwell said because of the shortage, all local area flu clinics have been closed until further notice, to save the vaccines they do have.

At the end of September, Inova Healthsource sent out reminders for residents to get their flu shots at local clinics through their "Fight the Flu" campaign.

"All of the community vaccine clinics have been canceled at this point until we are able to reassess our supply and find the best way to utilize it in order to serve our high risk population," said Beth Visioli, media contact for the Inova Health Care System.

Visioli explained once the CDC informs the health community about the vaccine status and whether or not they will be able to provide vaccines in the clinics, then Inova will hopefully be able to open some of the local clinics.

MariJo Banner, practice administrator for Herndon Family Medicine, said they pre-ordered their vaccines from Aventis, the other major flu vaccination manufacturer.

"Well, the good news is we planned ahead and have our order, we were very fortunate," said Banner. "But this is horrible, there are people who won't get a flu shot and that's scary."

Banner said Herndon Family Medicine has been fortunate because their patients that are not in the high risk category have been canceling their flu shot appointments to save the vaccine for those who really need it.

"We've tried to help out other doctors," said Banner of their vaccine supply. "Helping each other out, that's what this is all about."

In Loudoun County, the Loudoun Medical Group was not as fortunate.

"We really don't fully know our options," said Carol Currier, MD., M.P.H., employee health, Loudoun Medical Group. "We're kind of ahead of the flu season logistically, it doesn't peak until around November, so we do have a little bit of wiggle room."

Currier said a majority of the medical offices in the Northern Virginia area are locked into Chiron, including their group, which has left everyone scrambling to count the vaccines they do have.

"All scheduled flu shots have been canceled by the CDC," she said, adding their 26 flu vaccination sites have had to pull the little amount of vaccines they did have. "In this area, we still don't have enough flu shots, they hadn't arrived."

The state department of health said that although the Chiron adult flu vaccines would not be available, they did have an estimated 115,000 doses of the flu vaccine for the Vaccines for Children Program that was ordered through Aventis.

"Aventis has said that they could make another million [vaccines] available to certain countries," said Currier, adding that the United States is one of those countries.

The CDC reports that in an average year, 36,000 people die from the flu and 114,000 people are hospitalized across the country. Last year they tracked 152 flu-related deaths among children under the age of 18-years.

"Right now we have to guard the flu supplies we have," said Currier. "I'm not sure the CDC isn't going to prioritize in the high risk group we have."

Currently, all medical organizations that deal with flu vaccinations are waiting on the CDC to announce the next steps in distributing the limited amount of vaccinations they do have, and are strongly encouraging people who are not in the high risk group to refrain from getting the vaccination.

"We're doing the best we can to make sure the high risk population is vaccinated," said Caldwell. "It's a difficult situation, but we don't have a choice."