Want a flu shot? Expect delays

By SHARON SALYER

Herald Writer

If you want a flu shot this year, the good news is you’ll be able to get one.

The bad news: unless you’re a senior or have health problems that make you vulnerable to the flu, you will probably have to wait longer than usual.

Problems producing this year’s national vaccine supply mean that most people who simply want to avoid a bout with the bug will be getting shots in November and December.

But that should be OK for most people since the flu season doesn’t normally hit until January.

In a normal year, flu shot clinics kick off the first week in October.

Stevens Hospital in Edmonds expects to get only 20 percent of its supply this month, 50 percent in November and another 30 percent in December.

The situation there is typical of what other area health care organizations are reporting.

"We’ll get what we ordered, but it will be delayed," said Anne Markell, community flu shot coordinator.

Because of this, the organization hasn’t been able to schedule many of its flu shot clinics, she said.

One of its most popular promotions is a gas station near Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood that annually offers the shot to the public in an upstairs conference room.

Last year, it was scheduled Oct. 14. This year, it won’t be held until the day after Thanksgiving, Markell said.

Visiting Nurse Service of the Northwest reported that it, too, will be a month late in kicking off its flu shot clinics. The service is scrambling to set up a new schedule, which now will begin Nov. 1.

"I believe this is the latest we’ve started our flu shot campaign," said Doris Visaya, clinic program manager.

When the first batches of vaccine arrive, federal health officials are advising that those who could face severe illness or even death if they catch the flu get the shots first.

Mostly, this is senior citizens. In 1999, for example, a flu outbreak in a Lynnwood nursing home killed seven residents in a two-week period.

But others who have immune system or other severe health problems also will be at the top of the list to receive the shot.

The Everett Clinic, which ordered 17,000 doses, was one of the few local health care organizations that has received its full allotment.

"Lucky!" was the explanation from Jude Bulman, assistant administrator for clinical operations.

Nevertheless, healthy patients will be asked to hold off until December, she said, to allow older and other vulnerable adults to get the shots.

At Group Health, the shots will be available to members in mid-November.

Providence Occupational Medicine Center in downtown Everett will have the shots available on a walk-in basis beginning Nov. 20.

The Snohomish Health District is receiving at least part of its requested supply of 6,500 doses in mid-October and will begin administering the vaccine Nov. 1. The shots will be available at its clinics in Everett and Lynnwood.

"We’ve had a number of calls already … asking when we’re going to be starting," vaccine coordinator Kelly Barrows said.

The delay in getting the shots out to clinics is caused by a national problem in manufacturing a safe virus to handle one of the three strains of flu that will be out there this year.

Although shots are arriving later than usual, they should be available well before the brunt of the flu season, a flu specialist at the state Department of Health said.

For 14 of the past 18 years, major flu outbreaks here and across the country have occurred in January, February and March, said Phyllis Shoemaker, flu surveillance coordinator.

With 75 million doses being producing nationally this year, there will be enough to go around eventually, she said.

So even if it’s December before you get your shot, it’s not too late.

Her advice to health care workers: "Keep giving those shots until it’s all used up."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recommends anyone age 50 and older get a flu shot each year. It takes two to four weeks after the shot to build up an immunity to the virus.

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