No flu vaccine in area

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

The demand for influenza vaccines this season has exceeded the supply available for the 2003-2004 flu season. Presently, there is no vaccine available at county health departments. Today the federal government announced that Alabama will receive an additional 1,400 doses of the vaccine that will be distributed through public health areas in the state. Some individual county health departments may not, however, receive additional vaccines.

More than 200,000 flu shots have been administered in the state this season.

"The Alabama Department of Public Health ordered a larger quantity of vaccine for this season than ever before, and is pleased the public has responded by getting their immunizations earlier," said Winkler Sims, director of the Immunization Division. "We regret there are not enough doses for everyone who wishes to receive them."

Influenza cases usually peak in January or February in Alabama, as they do nationally. In addition to being immunized, the public is advised to wash their hands frequently. Parents should not send their children to school with a fever, and to wait until a child is free of fever for 24 hours before sending him or her back to school.

"We have about 10-12 more flu-related sicknesses (on the student absentee list) than usual," said Andalusia Elementary Principal Bob Harry.

Those groups at highest risk of complications of influenza include persons 50 years or older; residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that house persons of any age who have long-term illnesses; adults and children who have chronic heart of lung conditions, including asthma; adults and children who need regular medical care or have been in a hospital because of diseases like diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune system; women who will be more than 3 months pregnant during the flu season, children 6-23 months of age and household contacts of high risk people.

Influenza is caused by a virus. In an average year, 20 percent of the population experiences influenza. Symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, cough, headache, body aches, mild sore throat and stuffy nose. Severe symptoms last 2-7 days, but the cough can last for weeks. Some patients become so sick that they need hospitalization and some even die.

For more information about the availability of influenza vaccine, contact your health care provider or county health department.

"Our office is out of the injectable vaccine, but we do have the nasal spray," said Dr. Charles Eldridge, a physician in the Andalusia area. "It's a new, effective form of immunization."

Eldridge said the limitations for use of the spray is for people 4-50 years of age, and people who have asthma or an immune system deficiency can not be administered the spray.

The shortage of the vaccinations is because the company that supplies the vaccines has run out, said Eldridge.

"The injectable form has been out for a few days (in our office)," Eldridge said. "The company who supplies the vaccines told us there will be no more for quite some time, and all 80 million of the vaccinations in the country have been sold out."

Eldridge said he believes there is one physician's office in Andalusia that has the vaccine, but he is not sure for how long.

The reason for the shortage on a national scale is the flu season struck earlier and more severe than in previous years, added Eldridge.

"The demand was greater (this season)," he said. "The flu season's initial outbreak was more severe. Last year there were about 200 cases of the flu reported, but we currently have 500 cases reported this season."

And the season isn't over yet, according to Eldridge.

"The (flu) season probably hasn't even peaked yet," he said. "Hopefully it will end early."

Continued Eldridge, "This is a different strain of the virus than we've seen, one that is more aggressive."

"We currently have no flu vaccines at (the) Covington County Health Department," Sims said. "Most of the counties in AL are completely out, and if not out by today, then by tomorrow. We're asking people to contact any medical provider in the county to try to locate some vaccines."