Seasonal Flu Vaccines in Short Supply

For the past month and a half, Dr. Clifford Bassett has spent countless hours on the phone, trying to find enough seasonal flu vaccine for his patients.

He has been unsuccessful.

"Every time I call [the supplier], I can't get an answer," said Bassett, director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York. "They say, 'Wait until September.' September comes around, and they say, 'Wait until October.'

"It's alarming to me that I have to spend three hours on the phone trying to round up some vaccine. Thousands of lives are at stake here."

Dr. Ulder Tillman, health officer for Montgomery County, Md., reported similar problems.

"The full-demand needs of mass flu clinics across the country were not fully anticipated," he said. "Several school-based vaccination clinics had to be canceled for lack of vaccine; community health centers ... have not been able to vaccinate their patients, [and] some private providers [say] they, too, are out of vaccine."

Bassett and Tillman are just two of a number of medical professionals across the country who suspect that the energy invested in getting out the H1N1 vaccine is pushing production and delivery of the seasonal flu vaccines to the wayside.

Bassett said he has called several colleagues in New York City to see if anyone else was having this problem and found that, while some pharmacies have the flu shot in stock, "doctors can't get supply at their offices. … I don't think there's ever been an issue before where we couldn't get enough seasonal flu vaccine."

Meanwhile, medical professionals in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Vermont, Montana, North Dakota, New Jersey and New York said they are getting only a fraction of the seasonal flu vaccine they ordered, according to ABC News and The Associated Press.

In all of these states, the story seems to be the same: Manufacturers are cancelling or delaying shipments, and many states will run out of flu shots until new shipments come in mid to late November. Consequently, many are having to cancel seasonal flu clinics and ration seasonal vaccine by need.

Bassett said he has heard of at least one doctor taking unusual measures to obtain doses of the vaccine.

"A colleague of mine needed flu vaccine and literally had to pay almost three times the usual cost to obtain some from an unscrupulous vendor," he said.

Swine Flu Vaccine Concerns Edge Out Seasonal Supply

Although most providers expect to receive enough seasonal flu vaccine by November, the current shortage is causing some concern.

Seasonal flu, generally speaking, is a much more serious illness than most people appreciate. Even a typical flu season results in 36,000 U.S> deaths each year, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Iowa, the Polk County Health Department has had to cancel all 31 of its community flu and pneumonia clinics for the month of October because of the lack of vaccine. With 1,000 flu shots remaining, Health Department Director Terri Henkels said, the shipment for more vaccine has been delayed until early- or mid-November.

In Minneapolis, walk-in flu clinics for seasonal flu vaccine have been cancelled until Oct. 21, and, in St. Louis, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has cancelled three dates for free seasonal flu shots because of a shortage of flu shots and "higher-than-expected" demand.

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