Shortage leads some organizations to vaccinate only high-risk groups
By SHARON SALYER
With anticipated flu shot shipments weeks late and supplies tightening, several area organizations are canceling public flu shot clinics while others are rationing the vaccine to those most at risk of developing serious flu complications.
The Everett Clinic has changed its policy from allowing anyone to get the shot to reserving it only for high-risk groups: those 65 and older or who have medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or immune system problems that make them especially vulnerable to the flu.
"We started looking at the numbers and we knew we were going to run out," said Bonnie Neff, who is coordinating the flu shot campaign for The Everett Clinic.
Those who have already made appointments will be able to get the shots.
Asked whether healthy adults who don’t yet have appointments will be given the vaccination, she responded, "I can’t predict it. It depends if the suppliers come through."
Although The Everett Clinic ordered 17,000 doses, 1,000 doses were given to both the Snohomish Health District and Stevens Hospital so they could immunize elderly and other at-risk patients. The Tulalip Tribes received 100 doses.
This is the tightest supply Neff said she has seen in 10 years at The Everett Clinic.
Meanwhile, 1,300 people lined up to get flu shots at Group Health’s Everett Medical Center Monday, the largest turnout ever for the opening day for flu immunizations.
"We were prepared for big; none of us were prepared for this," said Catalina Gorman, area director of Group Health’s Everett and Monroe facilities.
"I had seven nurses going at one time" administering the shot, she added.
Typically 800 to 1,000 people turn out on the first day they are offered.
Administrators pitched in to help direct the flow of patients in line for the shots. Early in the morning, the queue stretched the length of the building’s second floor, where the shots were being administered.
Group Health will provide the shot to any co-op member. There’s no rationing planned.
Neither the Snohomish Health District nor Stevens Hospital has received promised shipments.
In response, Stevens canceled an event scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving when the shots would have been available at a Lynnwood gas station. Another popular annual event, a Sunday brunch where the flu shots are provided, also has been canceled, said Bob Knowles, manager of preventive care.
"We have received no flu vaccine and no formal commitment as to when we will receive it," he said.
Priority will go to high-risk patients when shipments do arrive.
At the Snohomish Health District, some callers have been impatient with its policy of saving the shot for those who get sickest from the flu.
"They feel it’s their right to get the shot because they want the shot," said Kelly Barrows, vaccine coordinator.
Callers don’t understand why the health district doesn’t have the vaccine yet when it is being advertised elsewhere as available, she said.
Problems manufacturing the vaccine this year have caused significant delays in its availability nationally, so some organizations received full shipments while others have received partial or no shipments at all.
The Snohomish Health District has received one-tenth of its order, Barrows said, when it expected to have a little less than one-quarter of its allotment by now.
"We still don’t know when we’ll be getting our full shipment and when we can open up vaccines to the public," she said.
Supply is so tight that through the end of this month "it’s going to be cutting it close" to provide the shots at scheduled flu shot clinics for the elderly unless more vaccine arrives, Barrows added.
Providence Occupational Medicine in downtown Everett has 100 doses left for the general public with two more shipments expected by Dec. 1.
"It’s worse than the commodity market," Eleanor Turner, clinic manager, said of the high demand for the vaccine. "I’ve got the name of a guy who has the name of a guy. He put me on the list for the next available shipment."
While joining other health care providers in asking healthy adults to hold off on getting the shot, the recent chilly temperatures are a reminder that flu season is on the way.
"People are panicking," she said.
Four anti-viral prescription medications now are on the market for combating symptoms once someone has contracted influenza, Turner said.
"If someone does catch the flu, it’s not the terrible thing it used to be," she said.
Talk to us
- You can tell us about news and ask us about our journalism by emailing email@example.com or by calling 425-339-3428.
- If you have an opinion you wish to share for publication, send a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail to The Daily Herald, Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206.
- More contact information is here.