Archive for Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Seniors hope for flu vaccine

Shortage raises concerns for at-risk patients

October 19, 2004


Nancy Winn wants a flu shot.

But Winn, a 74-year-old resident of Brandon Woods Retirement Community, has a problem. No shots are available.

As was the case at all Lawrence-area retirement communities and nursing homes surveyed Monday, Brandon Woods had no flu vaccine.

That's unusual for facilities taking care of the elderly -- one of the groups at greatest risk for complications from influenza.

"This has caused great concern with our residents, staff and families," said Donna Bell, Brandon Woods spokeswoman. Typically, the retirement community has enough flu vaccine for its 330 residents and 250 staff members.

Seniors should 'relax'

Despite the nationwide shortage, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Monday enough flu vaccine would be available for most people who need it and told seniors to stop standing in long lines to get a shot.

"We want people to relax," Thompson said at a Florida news conference. "The flu season is not here."

Seniors around the country have been standing in lines wherever vaccinations have been available since news of the shortage surfaced this month. British regulators shut down shipments from Chiron Corp., which made millions of flu shots earmarked for the U.S. market. The shutdown cut the U.S. supply of flu shots almost in half.

Officials with Lawrence-area retirement communities are urging their residents to line up for a flu vaccine clinic being conducted by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Free State High School, 4700 Overland Drive.

Numbers game

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department has about 1,600 adult doses of the flu vaccine, said Janelle Martin, spokeswoman for the department.

Winn said she would go to the flu clinic in hopes of getting a shot.

"I don't look forward to the idea of being sick," Winn said. "It doesn't mean that I would be without the shot, but there's just a greater possibility of it."

Even if Winn attends the Saturday clinic, there's the possibility she won't be able to get a shot. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 7,937 people aged 65 and older reside in Douglas County. And it is not just the elderly who are considered at-risk by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other at-risk groups:

l Children from 6 months to 23 months.

l People with chronic medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

l Children 6 months to 18 years old on chronic aspirin therapy.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has received 440 survey responses from health departments, hospitals and pharmacies and found:¢ A total of 70,708 doses of adult vaccine have been received.¢ A total of 9,274 doses of pediatric vaccine have been received.

l Health-care workers in direct patient care.

l Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children younger than 6 months old.

Thompson said the nation's flu vaccine supply was being reallocated to parts of the country where it was needed most.

"We are looking all over the regions to find out where there is a shortage, and we will redeploy the resources to make sure the seniors get the vaccine first," he said. Thompson noted that 91 percent of flu deaths last year were people 65 or older.

'Not pleasant'

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that only a few cases of flu have been reported this season, and that 20 million doses soon would be available for seniors.

"We are reassuring people that vaccine is on the way," she said.

Vern Smith, director of nursing at Lake View Manor, said he was confident all his residents would get a shot.

"We have to make sure we take care of all the high-risk people first," he said. "I think the health department is going a good job coordinating, and I think everybody is doing their job. Obviously, this is not pleasant for anyone. But I'm confident that people who really need the shot will get it."

Area nursing homes and retirement communities are working with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department to try to ensure all people who are 65 years or older receive a flu shot.

Prevention is key

Lawrence-area health department officials have kept in touch with nursing homes, retirement communities, child-care centers and a variety of other groups to make sure people are aware of the clinic Saturday, Martin said.

Pioneer Ridge Retirement Community administrator Dean Caldwell said her staff had posted signs to make residents aware of the clinic and to inform family members. She said staff also encouraged family members not to visit if they were sick.

"Visitation is really important, but we have no other way to contain this right now," Caldwell said.

She said staff was checking with residents' physicians to see whether they were offering flu shots and providing plenty of hand sanitizer. Prevention has become key, Caldwell said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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