State health officials are warning of the likelihood of a flu vaccine shortage this winter and are urging shots be given only to those at high risk of complications from the disease.
``What they're trying to do is alert people that there might be a problem,'' said Ken Browning, a manager in the state's Epidemiology Division. ``We don't know when we're going to get the supply, and we don't know how much we're going to get.''
The state expects to learn the extent of the problem sometime in the next two months.
Manufacturers have had trouble growing one of the influenza strains used in this year's vaccine, leading to the shortage. Because different flu strains circle the globe each year, a new vaccine must be developed each year.
In addition, the federal Food and Drug Administration earlier this year ordered two of the nation's four vaccine makers to correct manufacturing problems in their factories, delaying production.
A state health bulletin says there is a ``tremendous likelihood'' Alaska will have a flu vaccine shortage, meaning there may be enough shots only for the people who need them most.
The bulletin urges organizations to delay flu shot campaigns until mid-November and only administer shots to people at high risk for complications, such as pneumonia. The vaccine usually arrives in early September.
Flu season, which generally lasts from October through April or May in Southeast, is fast approaching. The virus occurs most frequently during cold-weather months when people tend to stay indoors more often and germs are spread more easily.
The state is making plans to reserve hoped-for doses for people who have health conditions that make it harder for them to fight the highly contagious virus, which is characterized by respiratory tract inflammation, fever, chills and muscle pain.
People with poor immune systems, those over age 65 and women in advanced stages of pregnancy should get priority for shots, Browning said.
The state distributes at least 65,000 to 75,000 vaccine doses each flu season. The state's Juneau Public Health Center usually has about 1,000 doses available each year, said Colleen McNulty, a public health nurse at JPHC. Those doses are shared with home health-care agencies, which hold special clinics outside the center.
``Usually it's November before we start seeing a large number of people,'' McNulty said.
In the meantime, the center is prepared to follow instructions from the state.
``Our plans are to vaccinate the people that are the most high risk when the vaccine does become available,'' said Mary Richmond, nurse manager at JPHC.
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