Shot shortage: Health officials want to focus flu shots on high risk groups

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

In light of a developing national flu vaccine shortage, health officials are asking Northeast Mississippians to make way for the people who need the shots the most.

“While we are waiting to see what will happen, we want to target those in the high-risk category,” said Liz Sharlot, communication director for the Mississippi State Department of Health.

The department had 112,000 adult flu vaccine doses on order from Chiron, the manufacturer whose license was suspended for its Liverpool, England plant Tuesday.

Now, only some 50 million doses of flu vaccine – half the expected supply – likely will be available this fall.

If an otherwise healthy person who doesn't fall under the guidelines gets the shot, that means someone at high risk for developing life-threatening complications from influenza may not, Sharlot said.

Who has it

Availability of flu vaccines is varying greatly from clinic to clinic depending on from which manufacturer they ordered. Patients should call ahead to private and public clinics to see about availability and guidelines for shots, Sharlot said.

Although the state health department doesn't know if or when it will receive any adult flu vaccine, health officials are expecting 70,000 doses for children within the week.

“We're planning to start high-risk children next week” if the shipments come in as scheduled, Sharlot said.

North Mississippi Medical Clinics have their full allotments in house because they ordered from Aventis Pasteur, the other flu vaccine maker.

“We do not expect a shortage in our clinics,” said David Barber, NMMC clinics chief operating officer. “At this point, we are not rationing vaccine for our patients” but will continue to monitor and follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Tupelo-based North Mississippi Pediatrics is still awaiting its supply, and physicians are developing plans for distributing it to patients, said Dr. Charles “Skip” Robertson. He expects a high demand for the shots.

“Everyone is sensitized this year,” Robertson said.

Smart decisions

At this point, health officials will have to rely on the common sense of patients and the persuasive powers of physicians. Seniors, small children, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses have the highest risk of developing serious complications from influenza.

Despite the vaccine shortage, the North Mississippi Medical Center's Live Well Health Fair will go on as scheduled Oct. 21, with free flu shots available for those who seek them, said Liz Dawson, director of NMMC Community Health, which organizes the event.

“We do ask that everyone evaluate their need for a flu shot in light of the recent shortage dilemma by following the CDC recommendations,” Dawson said.

Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at 678-1599 or michaela.morris@djournal.com