- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

Health officials say there is not enough flu vaccine for the area’s high-risk population because of a nationwide shortage of vaccine.

But health officials say there is no need to panic and are encouraging healthy people to forego getting shots this season.

“People who are healthy, it would be better if they’d wait until later on and let those who are high risk get the shot first,” said Dr. Walter Faggett, interim chief medical officer for the D.C. Department of Health.

The high-risk group includes children between 6 months 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 federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Diane Matuszak, interim deputy secretary for Maryland’s public health services, said about 1.6 million of the state’s 5.5 million residents are considered high risk. The state’s public health office expects that it will receive only 51,000 doses of vaccine this flu season.

Jim Farrell, director of the division of immunization for the Virginia Department of Health, said the state will send out 25,270 pediatric doses of flu vaccine to county health departments next week, but the situation is not ideal.

“The bottom line is if you’ve only got half of the pie, you can’t feed all of the people,” Mr. Farrell said.

Mary Anderson, spokeswoman for Montgomery County health services, said 2,800 flu shots were administered last year to high- and low-risk groups. But the health department doesn’t have even a fraction of that number this year.

“We only have a very small amount,” Ms. Anderson said. “We don’t even have a guarantee that we’re getting any adult vaccine at this point.”

Prince George’s County does not have any vaccine for adults or children, and the District has about 11,000 doses for children and about 400 shots for adults.

According to CDC estimates, about 92 children younger than 5 die of flu each year. About 114,000 Americans are hospitalized and 36,000 die of flu each year.

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

Because many will be unable to rely on the flu vaccine this season, Mr. Farrell said those included in high-risk groups and people who come in close contact with them should be especially vigilant about hand-washing, covering their mouths when they cough and staying at home if influenza does strike.

The CDC announced this week that the flu-vaccine company Chiron, based in England, would be unable to manufacture the 48 million doses it had promised this year.

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