- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

Several Washington-area clinics are limiting their flu vaccination programs because of nationwide shortages and are encouraging people to take alternatives to shots.

Many local county health officials are urging eligible people to use FluMist, a nasal-spray vaccine manufactured by Gaithersburg biotechnology company MedImmune.

The shortage of traditional flu shots and an endorsement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that FluMist is effective in fighting the H3N2-Fujian flu strain are expected to boost sales of the nasal spray.

At pharmacies in 33 Giant Food stores in Virginia, FluMist sales tripled last week over the previous week, a company spokesman said.

FluMist spokeswoman Jamie Lacey said it was too soon to say how much sales would be affected due to the traditional-vaccine shortage. MedImmune had sold 400,000 doses as of Nov. 18. The company produced 4 million doses for the flu season.

FluMist, which was intended to be a non-needle alternative for children, is limited to healthy individuals between ages 5 and 50. The Food and Drug Administration excluded toddlers and seniors, the two groups at the greatest risk of the flu, because of health concerns.

Last month, MedImmune downgraded its financial outlook for 2003 based mainly on sagging FluMist sales. The company earlier predicted sales of between $120 million and $140 million for the drug, but lowered the forecast to between $55 million and $85 million.

The flu season, which generally runs from November until March, has produced a harsher than normal strain that has sent hundreds of local residents to doctors’ offices and walk-in clinics during the past week.

Fairfax County officials said their supply of 300,000 flu shots would run out by today, with two of its five district offices depleted of supplies by Friday.

“People have been hearing that this flu has been more widespread with serious complications” that have killed several children, said Michelle Bachus, assistant director for Fairfax County’s patient core services, which include flu vaccinations.

Complications from the flu on average kill 36,000 people and hospitalize 114,000 annually, according to the CDC.

Ms. Bachus said flu clinics last week in the county saw three to four times the normal patient traffic, with about 100 people per event.

Arlington County, which held five clinics in the last two months, also said it will deplete its total 3,000 flu shots by today, said Carolyn French, bureau chief for family health services at the Human Services Department.

At least two clinics in Montgomery County, the International Traveler’s Clinic and Health First Clinic in Rockville, had depleted their flu-shot stockpile over the past weekend.

A manager for the program at Silver Spring Family Medical Clinic and the Passport Health Clinic in Silver Spring said the clinics were being inundated by walk-in patients, but would not say how many.

The manager, who declined to give her name, said the program was coping with the demand. “We’re experiencing the same spike in demand that the whole country is seeing right now, but we’re doing fine. People are getting flu shots,” she said.

Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services added two more clinics this week to help absorb some of that demand.

The county’s last scheduled vaccination program was Wednesday, but county officials added more clinics after seeing 260 persons during the three-hour event.

“Inevitably, people think of getting their flu shots once all of the flu clinics are over,” said Montgomery County spokeswoman Mary Anderson.

Prince George’s County is offering flu shots by appointment for the next few weeks. The county’s health department has received twice its normal volume of calls for flu shots since the nation’s two flu-shot manufacturers announced last week they had sold their entire stockpile, said spokeswoman Patricia Sullivan.

“We are urging a lot of people to check with local physicians, because many have vaccinations and simply aren’t advertising it,” Ms. Sullivan said.


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