- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Cheretta Coppedge knew there was a problem because the phone wasn’t ringing.

The Prince George’s County Health Department recently scheduled four free flu-shot clinics, and no one was calling to make appointments, said Miss Coppedge, the department’s spokeswoman.

The county received 4,250 doses of an injectable vaccine and has administered roughly half, she said. “It leaves us with a surplus of supply.”

Local health departments around the Washington region are reporting surpluses of the vaccine, which protects against the contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza.

Health officials worry that residents are risking contracting the virus, which affects about 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population each year, according to federal statistics.

The vaccine provides protection against various strains of influenza, but it is not effective against the so-called “avian flu,” which has not yet been documented in this country.

The District’s health department offers free flu shots, but residents haven’t been taking advantage of them, said Phillippa Mezile, a department spokeswoman.

Most of the department’s roughly 30,000 doses of vaccine are unused.

A warmer-than-average fall may have contributed to the delay, Miss Mezile said. “I don’t know why we wait, but we wait,” she said.

The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services ordered about 10,000 doses of vaccine, including a nasal spray called FluMist.

The county, which charges $20 per dose of the injectable vaccine, has administered about half its doses, said Cindy Edwards, nurse administrator for the department’s immunization program.

“Typically, if there’s a lot of flu activity early or if there’s a concern that there may not be enough vaccine, people are in a real rush to get vaccinated early and they want to make sure they get their shot,” Miss Edwards said, alluding to the 2004 vaccine shortage caused by contamination at a manufacturing facility in Britain.

Miss Edwards encourages everyone to get vaccinated.

“We could have something awful and horrendous happen in two weeks and everyone will be calling, so it’s not over till it’s over,” she said. “Something could happen which could change the demand immediately.”

The flu peaks in late January or early February, but the season can last as late as April, according to local health officials.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene ordered an estimated 120,000 doses of flu vaccine, said Greg Reed, program manager for the department’s Center for Immunization.

“There is still time for people to get a flu shot, especially those people who are at high risk,” Mr. Reed said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded its high-risk recommendations to include children up to 5 years old.

“Being vaccinated is such a great way to protect yourself,” said Kimberly Cordero, a spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Health Department. “You do not want to get the flu, especially for people in the high-risk categories.”

Typical symptoms include fever, headache and nausea, but more serious complications can lead to death. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized and about 36,000 die from flu complications, according to the CDC.

“This is not an unusual or pandemic strain — just the annual flu strain that comes virtually every year,” said Jim Farrell, director of the Virginia Department of Health’s Immunization Division.

The Virginia Department of Health ordered about 250,000 doses of injectable flu vaccine. Demand for the $25 vaccine typically is heavier earlier in the season, Mr. Farrell said.

“We’re making efforts to keep people aware, to get people vaccinated later in the season,” he said.

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