Hospitals Fear Flu Shot Shortage – QNS.com

Hospitals Fear Flu Shot Shortage

In a year when health officials are saying that getting the flu shot is more important than ever, local health officials are admitting that they may not have enough vaccine to immunize even the most vulnerable Queens residents. And they arent even sure when the vaccine they have been promised will arrive.
At the same time, health experts are locked in a battle with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over who should get priority for the potentially life-saving shots.
Mayor Giuliani has urged everyone to be inoculated so they do not confuse early signs of inhalation anthrax with a case of the flu. He suggested that if everyone got a flu shot, fewer people would get sick and clog doctors offices and emergency rooms, worried that they had anthrax. Doctors would also run less risk of dismissing early signs of inhalation anthrax as the flu.
The Mayors appeal drew fire from federal health officials last week who feared that younger residents without acute risk factors would compete for available stocks of vaccine. The health experts say that priority for the flu shots must be given to seniors and residents with compromised immune systems, particularly children.
But getting the critical shot might not be easy for anyone.
As of late last week, and with the flu season already bearing down, officials at New York Hospital Queens, Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, and St. Vincents Hospital said they are still waiting for their supply of vaccineand dont know when it will arrive. Thats bad news for the boroughs 375,000 residents over the age of 60, who health experts say, have the greatest need for the vaccine.
The American Lung Association of Queens is helping to immunize people by providing free vaccines for 20,000 Queens residents.
"As far as the supply is concerned, were not in control," said Robert Lobdell, first vice president of the American Lung Association of Queens. Lobdell said that 85 million doses have been ordered nationally and 100,000 citywide. In Queens, an estimated 14 hospitals, clinics and senior centers would ideally serve as distribution points to protect residents against the flu.
Next week, for the second year, the Queens ALA will announce the roster of organizations that will offer the free vaccine. The boroughs immunization campaign was launched on Nov. 1 at the Kew Gardens Community Center, when Borough President Claire Shulman and then City Councilwoman Helen Marshall got the shot along with 200 Queens seniors. The shots are being provided by the Citys Health and Aging Departments.
"Theres a real bottleneck right now because there isnt that much flu vaccine around" said Dr. Martin J. Blaser, an infectious-disease specialist at New York University School of Medicine. "If there were a run on vaccine so people at high risk couldnt get it, were doing more harm than good."
Further complicating the plan to immunize New Yorkers was the announcement last week by the New York State Health Department that one of the four manufacturers of the vaccine, The Parkland Pharmaceutical Co., has dropped plans to produce the vaccine.
Kristine Smith, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health, said that "the shortage is similar to last year when supplies of vaccine were delivered late." The difference this year is that Parkdale has dropped out of the flu vaccine business and the only active manufacturers of the product are Wyeth Laboratories, Lederle Laboratories and the Evans Co., said Smith. She expects the 85 million doses of flu vaccine to arrive at area hospitals in increments as the three remaining manufacturers struggle to maintain the vaccine quota originally intended for four drug firms.
Dr. Edwin Kilbourne, a research professor at New York Medical College and one of the countrys leading flu experts, said that "influenza quietly kills tens of thousands of people each year and costs the country billions of dollars."
The ALA stated that "influenza is a serious illness." It warned, however, that individuals who are allergic to eggs, or who have a fever, should not be immunized.
Shulman emphasized the need to inoculate "vulnerable populations." She cited adults, especially those over 65, and those with chronic diseases, including diabetes, asthma and other respiratory ailments, and children over six months of age, especially those with asthma.

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