- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

Local health departments plan to have a healthy supply of vaccine available for this year’s flu season after facing a severe shortage last year.

But health officials said they have received only partial shipments of their flu-shot orders and most of those shots are being reserved this month for high-risk patients.

“Because of what happened last year, the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] requested we receive our supplies in stages,” said Leila Abrar, spokeswoman for the District’s health department.

Health clinics nationwide had to ration flu shots last year after flu-vaccine manufacturer Chiron Corp. was barred from the U.S. market.

Federal authorities urged only high-risk patients to get vaccinated, causing a panic that resulted in many patients passing up flu shots. But agencies ended up finding excess vaccines later in the season and offered it to the public.

The winter flu season, which generally runs from mid-November through March, comes as the nation faces a possible pandemic of avian influenza, or bird flu. Several local health officials said they have received inquiries about flu shots for the bird flu, a separate disease that has not mutated into human form and has no vaccine.

So far, the D.C. health department has received 8,450 of the 21,140 shots it ordered. The flu shots initially will be for high-risk patients, Mrs. Abrar said.

The CDC advised clinics to give flu shots to only high-risk patients until Oct. 24 and then allow vaccinations for the general public. High-risk includes the elderly, children age 6 to 23 months, pregnant women, people with chronic conditions and health care workers.

Montgomery County also spaced out its vaccine supply this year, said Cindy Edwards, a nurse administrator who runs the county’s flu clinics.

The county Department of Health and Human Services ordered roughly 5,000 doses and received about 1,000 to 2,000 shots so far, Ms. Edwards said.

The shots will be available to the public after Oct. 24 but the county is relying on doctors, grocery stores and pharmacies to handle healthier patients, Ms. Edwards said.

Dr. Darlene Lawrence, a family physician in Northeast, managed to get her entire vaccine order, for about 140 patients, last month by ordering in May.

Dr. Lawrence, who has given 35 shots, said she is focusing on sicker patients until Nov. 1. “I have had to turn away three patients who weren’t high risk, but they will be back,” she said.

Loudoun County also is prioritizing its estimated 3,000 vaccine doses for high-risk patients this month.

“We’re just there for people who can’t get the flu shot” in the private sector, said Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend.

He would not say how many doses the department has received.

Alexandria’s health department had just 20 percent of its order for 1,600 adult vaccine doses this week, but the city has enough shots to serve its elderly patients, said Veronica Aberle, a nurse manager at the agency.

The agency expects another shipment in the next week with 800 extra vaccine doses for children, she said.

Fairfax County’s health department ordered 5,100 flu shots and expects to receive all of its vaccine in time for the flu season, said spokeswoman Kimberly Cordero.

She would not say how many shots are in stock.

Prince George’s County’s flu-shot clinics start at the end of the month, but health officials plan to serve high-risk patients first, said Patricia Sullivan, spokeswoman for the county’s health department.

The county ordered 2,900 shots and has been collecting the shots in increments, Ms. Sullivan said. She would not say how many shots the agency has collected.

Arlington County’s Human Services Department plans to give out 2,000 flu shots to mainly older and disabled patients the county assists, said spokesman Dr. Reuben Varghese. The agency expects several shipments to arrive this month.

Health Care runs Fridays. Call Marguerite Higgins at 202/636-4892 or e-mail [email protected]

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