- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Local doctors say the flu vaccine shortage is forcing them to make potentially life-or-death decisions about which of their patients, especially those in high-risk categories, will receive flu shots this season.

“I’m going to have to show some preferential treatment for the sickest,” said Dr. William Rosson, an internist in New Carrollton. “It’s a high risk, and we don’t know who’s going to get [the flu] and if they get it if they’ll survive. That’s why the vaccine is so important.”

Dr. Ilene Robeck, an internist in Fairfax, said her office has “had to send a number of people away because they did not fall into the high-risk groups. …

“It’s very hard because many of these are patients I’ve been taking care of for many years, and this is the first year we’ve been unable to vaccinate most people,” she said.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 114,000 Americans are hospitalized and 36,000 die of flu each year. About 92 children younger than 5 die of flu each year.

Yesterday, the CDC announced it would be working with Aventis-Pasteur, the largest provider of vaccines to the United States, to allocate 22.4 million doses of unshipped vaccine to organizations and areas serving high-risk patients. Federal health officials reminded doctors around the country who among their high-risk patients should be the first to receive flu shots when vaccine shipments arrive in coming weeks.

The high-risk group includes children between 6 and 23 months old, adults over 64, people with a chronic medical condition, pregnant women, nursing-home residents, health care workers and people in contact with children younger than 6 months, according to the CDC.

“If you look annually, thousands of people die of flu every year, and I think it will be interesting to see if we continue to be in bad shape through the year,” said Dr. Dennis Hannon, who has a family practice in Olney. “But I’d anticipate that there would be a lot of [fatalities this season].”

Flu season runs from October to May, and symptoms include fever, muscle aches, sore throat, headache, chills, coughs and stuffy nose.

Dr. Robeck said her office has received only 100 of the 250 doses it had ordered from VaxServe, a vaccination distributor owned by Aventis-Pasteur.

Like other physicians, Dr. Rosson said he will strictly follow the CDC guidelines for high-risk patients, but added that some of his patients will be left without the much-needed protection.

“I’ve got 250 people, most of whom have signed up for [the vaccine] and more than half of them have illnesses [like] diabetes, heart disease, and I had to tell them ‘Sorry, I’m your physician for the last 40 years and I can’t help you,’” Dr. Rosson said. “There’s something wrong with that.”

The U.S. flu vaccine supply was curtailed last when the British government recalled 48 million doses by London-based manufacturer Chiron.

On Monday, officials for Maxim Health Systems, a private health care services provider, announced the cancellation of public clinics dispensing flu shots at grocery stores and retail outlets across the nation after Saturday.

Steve Wright, national director of wellness services for Maxim, said more than a million doses originally ordered from Aventis-Pasteur will be diverted to specific high-risk facilities such as hospitals, assisted-living facilities and doctors’ offices.

“I think there are going to be real, tangible, negative effects, and people are going to pay the price for this [shortage],” said Dr. Hannon, whose office had ordered its vaccine supply from Chiron.

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