A late flu season on doctors’ wish lists

By SHARON SALYER

Herald Writer

With promised flu vaccine shipments now scheduled to arrive as late as the end of December, the head of the Snohomish Health District says he’s hoping for a mild and late-arriving flu season.

"We’re hoping and keeping our fingers crossed" that the flu season will be mild and "won’t happen until about March," said Dr. M. Ward Hinds, who heads the countywide health agency.

Although they don’t have adequate supplies to provide the shots to the general public yet, the health district has scheduled flu vaccine clinics at senior centers and nursing homes because of their higher risk of serious health complications if older people contract the virus.

But four clinics scheduled for next week have been canceled because promised shipments did not arrive. The events were at the Snohomish Senior Center, Cascade Valley Senior Living in Monroe, Merrill Gardens in Mill Creek and Mountlake Plaza in Mountlake Terrace, said Dr. Jo Hofmann, deputy health officer.

Although a shipment of vaccine promised Nov. 15 did not arrive, Hinds said the health district is expecting to receive weekly batches of up to 500 doses of vaccine until Christmas.

"We’re probably going to end up being pushed into January with some off-site (flu vaccination) clinics we normally do," Hinds said.

The flu season usually doesn’t hit Western Washington until January or February. The shots take about two weeks to be fully effective.

The health district is just one of many agencies locally and nationwide that has come up short of the number of doses it was promised because of problems manufacturing the vaccine.

Last week Group Health announced that it had changed its policy from offering the shots to anyone to rationing them to high-risk adults such as those over 65 or who have diabetes or heart disease.

The Everett Clinic has decided that it will save its remaining vaccine for high-risk patients as well.

Problems with production and distribution could mean that fewer people will be vaccinated than usual.

For that reason, an early flu season could potentially cause serious health problems, Hinds acknowledged.

However, a state Health Department official who monitors spread of the flu said she has seen no sign of the virus yet in Washington.

"We’re still reporting zero," health official Phyllis Shoemaker said. "That’s the good news."

Even though flu vaccine supply has been significantly delayed, "if we can get through Thanksgiving holiday without any big problems, we should be OK," Shoemaker added.

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