Thursday, October 14, 2004

State assesses flu
vaccine supply

Health officials plan a strategy for
getting shots to people most at risk,
including frail seniors

State Department of Health officials are scrambling to determine how many flu shot vaccine doses there are in clinics and private practices throughout Hawaii so that they can determine the extent of the shortage.

At a meeting yesterday, about a dozen Health Department officials, insurance companies and health care providers tried to assess the existing supply of the vaccine and plan a strategy to redirect it to people in the highest-risk groups such as the frail elderly, those with immune-system deficiencies, pregnant women and very young children.

The Health Department expects to form a "collaborative plan" to reallocate existing vaccine in the next few days. Many providers like to give flu shots in mid- to late October so patients are immunized when flu season hits in November or December.

Health officials are asking major providers and practitioners with the vaccine to immunize only their high-risk patients and to follow the Centers for Disease Control criteria in making that call.

"This is a dire situation," said Bob Ogawa, president of the Hawaii Long-term Care Association, who said there are about 4,000 seniors in licensed nursing care facilities in the state. He said those facilities have a "substantial shortage" of the vaccine.

"Certainly among those who should get high priority are the elderly, and among the elderly, the most at risk would be those in nursing homes," he said.

Ogawa acknowledged that many frail seniors live independently and are high-risk, but he said their relative isolation means they have less exposure than someone in a nursing home.

Health officials yesterday also discussed giving health care workers shots.

"It's going to be a very challenging flu season," said Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

"We're not going to have enough vaccine for everyone who wants it, but we hope to get it to the people most at risk. To do that will require a collaborative effort with the medical community and the public."

She encouraged healthy people to forgo shots.

Deputy Health Director Linda Rosen said the Hawaii medical community has been "very supportive" of their effort. She said, "We are hopeful that healthy Hawaii residents will demonstrate the same concern to their community and forgo their flu shot so those most vulnerable can be protected."

Concern about a critical flu shot shortage started last week when British regulators, citing contamination, shut down the Liverpool plant of Chiron Corp., a major vaccine supplier. They also froze the shipment of about 48 million expected flu shots, about half the nation's supply.

Ogawa said that most of the 26 long-term care facilities in the association buy from IPC PharMerica, which gets its vaccine from Chiron.

The Chiron shutdown left Aventis Pasteur this year's sole supplier of injectable flu vaccine. Aventis, which manufactured about 55.4 million doses, has shipped more than half, which cannot be recalled for redistribution to higher-risk groups.



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