- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

SEATTLE (AP) — Rod Watson had to cancel 1,000 flu-shot clinics in four states when the national vaccine shortage cut off his supply two months ago.

Now Mr. Watson has flu shots aplenty — and he can’t give them away.

“My biggest fear is I’m gong to end up with a lot of serum, and there’s a national shortage,” said Mr. Watson, president of Prevention MD, a medical screening and immunization company that offers $20 flu shots Monday through Friday at its Seattle-area office.

Public health officials in California, Colorado and other states have voiced similar fears. Some are relaxing the rules to offer shots to more people.

In October and November, people stood in line for hours to get one of the precious few flu shots. But now that more vaccine is available — with a few million more doses expected from British and German suppliers — demand is dwindling.

“It’s one of those things like Beanie Babies or something,” said Doug McBride, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “If you can’t get something, you’ve got more people wanting them.”

Supply exceeds demand in some areas, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. In other areas, people are still desperate for the vaccine. The best way to find a flu shot is to call your local health department, the CDC advises.

The CDC says 98 million people need the vaccine this winter. About 65 million doses will be available in the United States, including a nasal vaccine that is safe only for healthy people.

Public health officials say they hope demand is dwindling because they have reached the people who need flu vaccine the most: babies, seniors and those with compromised immune systems. But they say other factors — from frustration and apathy to simple human nature — might be at work, too.

When something is scarce, people naturally want it more. Being told they can’t get a desired immunization is an unfamiliar and unwelcome sensation for most Americans.

“Anytime a commodity is scarce, and it is a desired item, demand will increase,” said Louis Manza, psychology professor at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania.

Some people probably gave up after trying unsuccessfully to get a flu shot, said Mary Selecky, director of the Washington State Health Department and member of a national advisory group on flu vaccine distribution. Recent reports on this flu season’s mild start may have convinced others that getting a flu shot wasn’t worth the trouble — an impression Miss Selecky is trying to erase.

“It’s a mild flu season up to now, but next week could be another story,” Miss Selecky said. “We’re having to work a little bit harder so people know that getting a flu vaccine in December and January is still very effective.”

David Marks was surprised at how easy it was to get vaccinated last week.

“I just assumed it was going to be hard,” said Mr. Marks, 44, whose severe asthma puts him in the high-risk group. “I think people have given up.”

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