Flu vaccine supplies close to running out in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2003

Flu vaccines are almost completely depleted in Juneau, causing medical experts to recommend other preventative measures during what is shaping up to be a severe flu season.

"There really are some things you can do to lower your risk for flu," said Kate Slotnick, nurse manager at the Juneau Public Health Center. "Eating well, getting lots of rest, staying away from sick people - and washing your hands, washing your hands, washing your hands. It really can make a difference."

Alaska is one of at least 13 states with a widespread flu outbreak, the highest designation given by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state Department of Health and Social Services earlier this week recommended that health care providers dispense their remaining vaccines to people at the greatest risk for severe complications from the flu.

The recommendation came too late for some Juneau medical offices.

"We ran out this morning," Dr. John Krehlik of Juneau Medical Clinic said Wednesday. "It was just a bad coincidence."

Staff at his office began receiving calls from other local physicians searching for more vaccine Tuesday afternoon. They began searching themselves Wednesday, but haven't had any luck.

"There's nobody in town that has flu vaccination that I know of," Krehlik said. "We were the last clinic to have any vaccinations, but we're all out also."

The Southeast Medical Clinic has a limited supply of FluMist, a nasal spray vaccine. The vaccine is recommended for people 5 to 49 years old.

The Juneau Public Health Center, which receives its vaccines from the state Department of Health and Social Services, had about 40 vaccines left by Wednesday afternoon.

Though the center was administering the vaccine only to high-risk patients - children aged 6 months through 23 months, people 65 and older, and people of any age with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and asthma or with weakened immune systems - Slotnick anticipated supplies would run out by the end of the day Wednesday.

"This is our normal walk-in time and so it was standing room only in the waiting room by 1:30," Slotnick said Wednesday afternoon.

In anticipation of higher demand this year, the state ordered and received 90,000 doses of vaccine for public health centers and many private providers in Alaska - 10,000 more than last year, said Doug Bruce, director of Health and Social Services' Division of Public Health.

All of the vaccines purchased by the state have been distributed to health centers.

The state is working on acquiring more vaccines, but does not expect more to become available in any great number, said Laurel Wood, immunization program manager with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

"There's just simply not vaccine available out there to purchase," Wood said.

Because demand for the vaccine is fairly uniform around the state, officials will distribute any additional vaccine they acquire based on population and the ability of a region to administer the vaccine to high-risk patients, Wood said.

Influenza, or the flu, is a viral respiratory illness marked by the sudden onset of fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. The illness is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, sending the highly contagious virus into the air.

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