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Flu shots still in short supply

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The San Luis Obispo County Health Department reports that at least eight influenza cases have been reported since October, and Health Officer Dr. Greg Thomas expects to see an increase in the coming months.

Thomas says late November and December are still good months to get flu shots, since the season doesn't peak until January or later.

And high-risk patients, including those over 60, children under 23 months, and pregnant women, should be persistent in locating a flu shot provider.

He said the county has run out of vaccine for seniors, but still has a supply for high-risk children.

Many other pharmacies, clinics, and physicians have either run out or are still waiting for a supply.

Dana Nelson of Health Plus Pharmacy says his operation has given out thousands of flu shots the past several years, and ordered a supply for this year two months ago. But Health Plus has yet to receive a shipment. Its primary supplier canceled. Nelson said he expects to have some soon from his secondary sources.

Nelson said distribution of flu vaccine is being mishandled.

"I've been doing flu vaccines for over five years now, and every year, there's been a problem," Nelson said. "And the problem is that it's left to the public sector. Leaving it to the public sector is letting the marketplace drive your health care system."

Dr. Greg Thomas agrees. "Part of the problem is a national problem in that the flu vaccine manufacturers and distributors control who and when they're providing their vaccine to on a provider to provider basis. It's proprietary and commercial information."

As New Times reported last week, there is no centralized method of finding out where flu shots are. It's hit and miss, and even misleading, according to some who have used web sites for such information.

"It is a surprise to some people when they find out [the web site findaflushot.com] only applies to Maxim [a main supplier to grocery stores and pharmacies]."

Thomas added, "We get frustrated phone calls; people trying to find flu shots. We refer people to local resources and ask people to keep us informed as to when they're offering it."

He said, "Some of the providers don't want to be overwhelmed; they don't want to be the only ones providing flu shots and have a line a mile long.

"I personally believe the whole vaccine program should have increased governmental oversight," he said.

Nelson said Health Plus should be getting its supply shortly, and to call 543-5966.

Thomas said, "You need to keep calling if a provider is out. We keep being reassured the total flu vaccine supply will be much greater than last year, and perhaps even the largest ever produced, but it's late. And providers and patients are frustrated because they don't have it yet."

-K.H

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