Providers collaborate to meet flu shot needs

Hospitals and health department give priority to high-risk patients.
Monday, October 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:06 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

With the loss of nearly 47 million doses of flu vaccine worldwide after a British government crackdown on a global supplier, health care providers in Boone County are scrambling to meet demand as the winter flu season approaches.

Heather Baer, a spokeswoman for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health, said the agency ordered most of its vaccines from Chiron Corp., the British firm that had its license suspended earlier this month over a failure to comply with the United Kingdom’s manufacturing regulations.

The local health department is evaluating its procedures and supplies to determine the severity of the shortage.

“It’s just going to be a cooperative effort on all of the health-care facilities in the community, as well as the United States,” Baer said. “But here locally, we’ll all be working together to try and provide vaccines for those who need it the most.”

At Boone Hospital Center, the shortage has meant limiting flu vaccines to high-risk pediatric patients ages 6 months to 2 years, spokesman Lynn Hostetler said.

“The main effect that has gone down on us is that we won’t be able to offer flu shots to the public unless we find another supplier,” Hostetler said.

Boone Hospital is referring non-pediatric patients to their personal physicians for the vaccine.

Although the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention usually recommends health-care workers and those in contact with high-risk individuals get the flu vaccine, Baer said that could change.

“It will just kind of depend on the hospital situation,” she said. “They’ll have to prioritize … depending on what the risk category is for that person.”

At University Hospital and Columbia Regional Hospital, an advance shipment of vaccines from Aventis Corp., the company that has become the sole supplier of vaccines, has prevented a shortage, spokeswoman Monica Moore said.

The two hospitals will work with other local providers to meet the community’s needs, she said.

Weeks after the crackdown on Chiron, medical providers continue to struggle. Aventis., which has headquarters in New Jersey and France, is working with the CDC to assess where gaps exist.

“Just because you ordered it (from Aventis) doesn’t mean for sure that you will get it,” Baer said.

Aventis and the CDC announced Oct. 12 that the company will begin the immediate distribution of flu vaccines to high-priority providers such as nursing homes, long-term-care facilities and health-care providers who see children. The process is expected to take six to eight weeks.

“Unfortunately, it does take some time and coordination to talk to each state,” Baer said. “They’re really trying to get the most complete picture before they redistribute.”

In the meantime, the health department is still planning to have its annual flu-shot clinic Nov. 4, but it will target those most at risk.

Officials at University and Columbia Regional hospitals are encouraging individuals in the high-risk groups to get vaccines first.

“We believe that everybody should get their shot,” Moore said. “We’re not going to turn people away unless we have to. We don’t want to turn people away.”

Moore recommended that patients speak with their physicians to determine their level of risk and consider alternatives to the flu shot.

According to the CDC, those most in need of the vaccine include children from 6 to 23 months, adults 65 and older and pregnant women.

Baer said it is important for members of these groups to get the vaccine because they often have weaker immune systems, which can lead to complications such as pneumonia.

While the effects of the shortage are still being evaluated, Baer recommends people maintain their health by staying home when sick, maintaining a high energy level and practicing good hygiene.

“There’s no reason to panic,” Baer said. “We’re not looking at some horrible epidemic at this point, and hopefully we won’t have something like that. I would hope that people would be assured that all of the health-care community is working together to try and provide everyone with as much of the vaccine as we can.”

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