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Shot in the dark

Flu vaccines aren't coming easy this year

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There may not be a flu vaccine shortage this year in SLO County, but a lot of people are confused about where to get a shot due to clinic cancellations, abrupt Internet notices, or non-supply.

For example, several local health centers recommended by SLO County Health, like Med-Plus, MedWorks, and Health Plus, haven't received the vaccine they have ordered, and they don't know when they are getting it. Health Plus offers shots only to its patients. Med-Stop is the only walk-in clinic currently offering shots. Twin Cities Hospital in Templeton still has a supply. Sierra Vista, after having a successful clinic two weeks ago where more that 600 doses were given, is out. Albertson's is expected to get more today. Longs is out and has cancelled all its future clinics.

Log on to findaflushot.com, a web site managed by Maxim Health Systems, which distributes the vaccine to grocery stores and pharmacies, and this message pops up:

"We regret to announce all remaining Maxim flu shot clinics have been cancelled because of current distribution challenges the nation is facing in regard to flu supply."

Maxim adds that a limited supply of vaccine forced it to end its program early.

Call the SLO County Flu hotline, and you get a recording.

That recording, says SLO County Health Director Greg Thomas, is being updated. And he says there is no flu vaccine shortage.

" The flu vaccine supply is expected to be significant over last year's ... it's late ... some have received it ... others are still waiting for their full or initial order to come in."

Thomas said nationwide there is a total of 78 million doses this year over 61 million last year. The largest provider, Sanophi-Pasteur, produced 62 million of those 78, and of those, 51 million have been shipped. Another 7.5 million are expected to reach clinics by mid-November.

This news doesn't comfort Doris Folker at Med-Plus. "Our supplier hasn't delivered ... we've received none at all and we were supposed to get it Nov. 1."

Flu season usually begins Dec. 1, and it usually takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect.

While Thomas says there my not be a shortage, developing an anti-virus takes a long time.

"The production of flu vaccine is complicated given outdated technology," Thomas said. "They grow it in eggs and chick embryos, so it's a slow process which takes six months."

Thomas said a committee looks at all the evidence and makes its best guess as to what types of flu circulated last year and what types circulated in the Southern Hemisphere during their winter. This year, put simply, there are three strains - California, New Caledonia, and Shanghai. The vaccine does not have anything to do with the dreaded avian flu, which, according to Thomas, may have heightened people's awareness about the regular flu vaccine this year.

Thomas says there is still time, and urges high-risk people especially to get one. High risk is defined as adults over 60; people with chronic heart and lung conditions, diabetes, or asthma; infants between six and 23 months; and pregnant women.

Shots range from no cost in some clinics up to $25 in others. But it appears you'll have to make the calls to find out who and where they are. Many private physicians have the vaccine for their patients, although it's reported some doctors won't bother with flu shots because it isn't worth the cost of giving one.

Your best bet is SLO County Health at 781-5500. Other numbers that may help: Med-Stop at 549-8880; Med-Plus at 474-8450; Albertson's at 474-4909; or Twin Cities Hospital at 434-3500.

 

Managing Editor King Harris can be reached at kharris@newtimesslo.com.

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