Counties struggle with flu shot shortage

Those without high risk urged to avoid getting flu shot

The nationwide flu vaccination shortage—which has made national headlines and presidential debate fodder—is having a big impact on area health departments and health care facilities.

Chiron, manufacturer of nearly half the flu vaccine supplied in the United States, announced in early October that it would not be able to deliver its orders. The Bush administration has acknowledged that it knew in advance of the shortage, but did not warn the public or act on the shortage.

The Boone County Health Department announced Oct. 6 that it would be canceling its flu clinics due to the shortage, and many other health departments, pharmacies and clinics have also been forced to cut back or completely cut off distribution of the vaccine.

Doug Beardsley, Boone County Health Department administrator, said in an Oct. 6 press release: “We feel terrible about this development. Over 2,200 residents of Boone County depend on us for their flu shots each year and we are very disappointed and concerned that we will not be able to serve them.”

Despite the reduction in vaccine supply, the Boone County Health Department stressed two critical points in minimizing the potential impact of the flu on the health of area residents.

First, some health care providers do have flu vaccine available. However, only those considered at high risk should receive a vaccine. Those most at risk include children 6-23 months of age; adults 65 years of age and older; people 2-64 years of age with underlying medical conditions; pregnant women; residents of long-term care facilities; children 6 months to 18 years receiving long-term aspirin therapy; health care workers providing direct patient care; and out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children younger than 6 months.

Second, there are many things individuals can do to reduce their risk of contacting the flu and any other communicable diseases. Such precautions include the following:

Cough etiquette: Make sure you cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or tissue when coughing or sneezing and turn your head away from others.

Hand washing: Wash hands after coughing or sneezing (even if you use a tissue), before eating and after going to the bathroom. Good hand washing should also be used frequently when caring for an ill person.

Stay home: Stay away from crowds, work and school when sick. Don’t be a martyr and go to work sick.

Cleanliness: Pay additional attention to cleanliness. Be sure to clean door knobs, countertops and other surfaces on a regular basis and after they are used by an ill person.

Healthy lifestyle: Be sure to get adequate rest, proper nutrition and moderate exercise to keep your body fit and healthy.

Beardsley added: “We are asking the entire community to pull together during this urgent situation. Check with your primary health care provider to see if vaccine is available. Healthy persons not in a priority group are asked to forgo their flu shot this season unless additional supplies of vaccine are made available. There are many things individuals can do to lower their risk of contracting the flu and other communicable diseases, such as frequent hand washing, cough etiquette and staying away from other people if you have symptoms.”

For more information, contact the Boone County Health Department at 544-2951 or the Winnebago County Health Department at 962-5092.

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