A record amount of vaccine is expected this flu season, and local providers are hoping enough is distributed to meet demand early on, when people are most interested in shots.
Noting "alarmingly low" vaccination rates among adults and children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged yesterday that Americans get flu shots well into the flu season.
"We need to rethink the influenza immunization season and encourage vaccination throughout the fall and winter," Dr. Julie Gerberding, the CDC's director, said in a statement.
"Every year, we miss the opportunity to get more Americans vaccinated," said Dr. Ardis Hoven, an infectious disease specialist and board member for the American Medical Association, at a news conference with Dr. Gerberding and other health officials in Washington.
"After Thanksgiving, patient demand for vaccine dramatically decreases," often leaving many doses unused and people unprotected, Dr. Hoven said.
Flu season runs from November to March.
The CDC recommends that anyone get vaccinated who wants to reduce the risk of getting the flu or spreading it to others. Specific groups that should get vaccinated include children six months to 5 years; pregnant women; people 50 and older; people with chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes; household contacts and caregivers of anyone at high risk, such as young children or people 65 and older; nursing home residents and health workers.
Officials said that for years, only about 40 percent of health care workers have been vaccinated.
Nationwide, about 30 percent of high-risk people 18 to 49 were vaccinated in the 2005-2006 flu season, and 69 percent of people 65 and older.
Young children need two doses when they are first vaccinated. In the 2005-2006 season, only one in five children ages 6 months to 23 months were fully vaccinated, and just over one in 10 children who needed two doses got both.
Officials noted that yesterday, another means of vaccination became available for many younger children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the inhaled flu vaccine FluMist for children ages 2 to 5. Previously, it had been approved for children 5 and older and adults up to 49.
Officials cited a number of reasons for low vaccination rates, including the mistaken belief that getting a flu shot can cause the flu; complacency; and the instability of the vaccine supply chain.
The current system can't fill all vaccine orders before the start of the flu season, and "that is very frustrating for providers," said Dr. Jeanne Santoli, deputy director of the CDC's immunization services division.
Yet nationally, vaccine production has increased, she noted.
Dr. Santoli said manufacturers expect to produce a record 132 million doses this year -- up from about 120 million last season, when about 102 million doses were distributed.
Last year in the Pittsburgh area, some providers reported problems in receiving enough vaccine early on. Later in the season, however, the area was awash in unused vaccine.
Kelly Fennell, practice manager for Ambridge Area Healthcare Services, said 300 of 1,200 doses ordered for this season have been delivered. Officials have said the rest will arrive by the end of September. "If it comes in after mid-October, it could be an issue," she said.
Liz Yankello, practice administrator for Sewickley Valley Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, said the vaccine situation seems better than last year. But the practice has yet to receive any vaccine from the state Vaccine for Children program, which provides flu shots for children who are without insurance or who receive medical assistance.
The state "can't give us a date" when the vaccine will be delivered, she said. Stacy Kriedeman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said Vaccine for Children doses are expected to be sent by the end of next month.
After ending the last flu season with excess doses, the Allegheny County Health Department scaled back on its vaccine order for this season.
Last season, the department ordered 45,000 doses -- 9,000 for its flu clinic and the rest for other providers, said spokesman Guillermo Cole. But it only used 3,000 doses for its own clinic, down from 7,000 the previous season.
The department believes usage went down because vaccine was available from other providers, said Mr. Cole, noting that this season, the health department ordered just 3,000 doses for its own clinic and 22,000 for other providers.
The department will open its flu clinic at 3441 Forbes Ave. in Oakland on Oct. 15. The walk-in clinic is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Health Hope Network, another major local provider of flu shots, also scaled back on its flu shot order, though not on the number of its scheduled clinics, said Executive Director Dotti Bechtol.
The agency ordered 15,000 flu shots, down from 30,000 the year before.
Health Hope Network will begin holding its public flu clinics Oct. 1. For more information, call 412-937-8350 or visit www.healthhopenetwork.org.Flu shot clinic schedule for Health Hope NetworkOCTOBERDayDateTimeLocationAddressCityMonday01-Oct9am-10amGateway Towers320 Fort Duquesne Blvd.PittsburghTuesday02-Oct11am-2pmNational City Mt. 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Joe Fahy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1722.