Juneau officials conduct triage during continuing influenza vaccine shortage

Alaska is short 40,000 doses it ordered from suspended manufacturer

Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2004

As the nation faces a flu vaccine shortage, Juneau's health care providers are getting only half the vaccine they ordered.

Due to the shortage, health providers have to turn people away if they don't belong to a high-risk group, officials say.

The United States this flu season is getting only half the vaccine it normally would because Chiron, which provided half the flu vaccine in the nation, was unable to release any flu vaccine this year. British regulators suspended the manufacturing license of the company's Liverpool facility for three months.

Alaska has received 60,000 doses that it ordered from another source, but is short the 40,000 doses it ordered from Chiron.

"We have been distributing the vaccine to public health centers, Alaska Native corporation clinics, long-term care facilities and private providers," said Laurel Wood, immunization program manager of Alaska Division of Public Health.

Wood said the vaccine should be administered only to people at high risk. People 65 years or older, health care workers with direct patient care and children 6 to 23 months should be vaccinated.

Those who should get the vaccine can get it from their physicians. The Juneau Public Health Center will have a flu vaccine clinic this afternoon from 1 to 4.

Hospice and Home Care of Juneau has been vaccinating its clients, direct caregivers and nurses.

The agency used to get 300 doses every year and run a flu vaccine clinic in the three senior centers in town and a senior apartment complex. This year, the agency gets only 150 doses and is planning to run the clinic in just one location.

"People seem to have a higher level of interest to get vaccinated when there is a shortage reported," said Kim Redifer, program director of Hospice and Home Care of Juneau.

Flu shots have become one of the most popular conversation topics at the Juneau Senior Center.

Mary Lewis, 75, has received a flu shot annually for the past 10 years. She got vaccinated this year from her family doctor.

"My son made me start getting it years ago," Lewis said. "I've never had flu, period."

Ellen Northup, site manager of the senior center, said her doctor recommends that she get a shot because she has a heart disease and diabetes. But she said she would wait until people who are more vulnerable than she is get the vaccine.

"I am not going to stand in front of an 85-year-old person who is hooked to oxygen," Northup, 70, said.

Northup said before she gets a flu shot, she will continue doing everything she can to stay healthy. To prevent a flu epidemic at the senior center, she asks the janitors to clean seats, tables, telephones and rails with Clorox every day.

"Clorox kills germs like crazy," Northup said. "We are fighting the battle and we are going to win."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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