Where's Flu-zy?

This year's flu season has an unexpected twist

By Jennifer Lassiter
star staff

  People will be keeping their fingers crossed for the arrival of Flu-zy this season, mainly due to a shortage of widely used influenza vaccine.
  Dr. Arnold Hopland displays Flu-zy every year at the Elizabethton Medical Care Center to remind people that it's flu immunization time.
  "We've not got her up yet this year due to the flu shortages, and we might not," said Hopland.
  Chiron Corporation, a major supplier for the Unites States influenza vaccine, unexpectedly halted production of the vaccine due to contamination in a small amount of it. British regulators officially suspended their license, preventing Chiron from exporting Fluvirin brand on Tuesday.
   According to the CDC, this action will reduce by approximately one half the expected supply of the flu shot available in the United States for the 2004-05 influenza season.
   Fortunately, there is one other competing firm, Aventis Pastuer, Inc. that will supply about 54 million flu shots, and, as a result, the CDC and its Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices issued recommendations for the 2004-05 flu season.
  The following priority groups to receive the vaccine are considered to be of equal importance:
  * all children aged 6-23 months
  * adults aged 65 years and older
  * persons aged 2-64 years with underlying chronic medical conditions
  * all women who will be pregnant during the influenza season
  * residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
  * children aged 6 months-18 years on chronic asprin therapy
  * health-care workers involved in direct patient care, and
  * out-of-home caregivers who have household contact with children aged less than 6 months
  "Sycamore Shoals Hospital has enough flu shots in house for team members and patients because they order all their flu vaccines from Aventis, but not enough for the general public," said Infection Prevention and Control Team Member and Health Nurse Libby Johnson.
  Johnson suggested an intranasal alternative to the shot form of the vaccine which is a live form of the influenza vaccine but also stressed the importance of "common sense" sanitation. "The number one way to stop the spread of any kind of virus is washing your hands," said Johnson.
  The intranasal form of the vaccine is recommended by the CDC for the following people:
  Healthy persons who are aged 5 to 49 years old who are not pregnant, including health-care workers (except those who care for severely immunocomprosmised patients in special care units) and persons caring for children aged less than 6 months.
  Between both optional forms of the vaccine there is a gap in the ages between 50 to 60 and 20 months to 5 years. Hopland, a practicing physican at Medical Care, asked BlueCross BlueShield (BCBS) to help prevent a possible epidemic.
  "If they could support the cost of the nasal form of the vaccine they could possibly help prevent a great loss," said Hopland.
  Bill Steverson, director of Corporate Communications at BCBS, said they are looking into helping but they are waiting to hear from the CDC on how much supplies are in stock.
  The Carter County Health Department is on schedule for all their vaccines for children. Director Caroline Hurt said there are no delays and no decreases in production of the children's vaccines.
  Hurt said they are experiencing some unrelated delivery delays on adult vaccines. "We are awaiting protcols from the regional health office on when or what level if any we should prioritize adult immunizations," said Hurt.