Flu Vaccine Scarce, No Panic
The population could be broken into three categories these days: those who have caught influenza -- either the H1N1 or seasonal variety; those scrambling for vaccination; and those who have been vaccinated.
Those who refuse to take the vaccination apparently are a minority.
People with flu-like symptoms continue to clog the hospital emergency room and doctors' waiting rooms.
Pharmacies are the most likely places to secure vaccination against the H1N1 virus, but seasonal flu vaccine is not to be found anywhere.
More than 500 individuals received the seasonal flu vaccine in a two-day clinic at the Prescription Shoppe in Seven Lakes in early October.
"That's a lot of vaccine to give out in two days," said Rob Barrett, pharmacist at the Seven Lakes Prescription Shoppe.
Most of the recipients were Seven Lakes residents.
But that was the seasonal flu vaccine. Now the Prescription Shoppe in Seven Lakes is among a handful of pharmacies in Moore County offering vaccinations against H1N1 flu.
Barrett has no expectation of receiving more seasonal flu vaccine, at least not in time for the 2009-10 regular flu season. He says manufacturers have halted production of the seasonal flu vaccine in order to concentrate on the H1N1 flu vaccine.
"We do have a waiting list," Barrett said of the 50 doses of H1N1 vaccine received Wednes-day.
Of that shipment, 37 are already spoken for.
"Originally, we got a lot of calls, but they have slacked off now," Barrett says. "Our goal is to administer these shots to people in the target population."
The target population for H1N1 flu vaccine includes children, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.
In Southern Pines, the Town Center Pharmacy also has H1N1 flu vaccine but no seasonal flu vaccine.
Sri Gottipati, a Town Center pharmacist, said he is "completely out" of seasonal flu vaccine, which is on back order. He doesn't know when, or if, the pharmacy will receive a shipment.
Gottipati said Town Center has administered 400 vaccinations against seasonal flu, and, in recent days, has administered about 100 vaccinations against H1N1 flu.
"We get a lot of phone calls about flu vaccine," he said.
Confusion about the difference between the two flu vaccines and questions about distribution of vaccines have contributed to public annoyance, but so far no panic has developed, and the outbreak appears to be far from an epidemic.
The H1N1 virus, originally called swine flu, emerged early in the year and stirred concern largely because the disease was diagnosed during months when influenza is not generally prevalent.
For a few months, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services maintained a statistical update on the new disease on its Web site.
It listed the number of new cases diagnosed weekly with a breakdown of cases according to counties and a tally of deaths in North Carolina.
The state has since discontinued the county-by-county update be-cause of the difficulty of differentiating between the two viruses.
Without the lab test, the two viruses produce similar symptoms, although the swine flu is characterized by a somewhat higher fever than is usually common with other varieties. Treatment is about the same for both viruses.
The latest information on the state Web site does not differentiate between H1N1 and seasonal flu and instead lists statistics for all flu-like illnesses across North Carolina between Nov. 1 and Nov. 7. Two deaths were recorded during that period, bringing the total to 35 in the state since Sept. 27. An update is provided weekly. No figures are available for Moore County alone.
Because supplies of the H1N1 flu vaccine are also limited, most pharmacies are reserving doses for the targeted populations. This virus does not target older adults, who appear to have built up some form of immunity to this particular strain of flu, although there have been exceptions.
The Moore County Health Department has already administered the H1N1 vaccine to children in local schools. Initially, this was the only source of the H1N1 vaccination, although the seasonal flu vaccine was available in limited quantities at doctors' offices, clinics, pharmacies and other businesses.
The Pinehurst Medical Clinic ordered 9,000 doses of the seasonal flu vaccine but received fewer than 4,000 doses. The clinic dispensed 3,360 doses in a Saturday clinic a few weeks ago, but lack of vaccine forced cancellation of a second clinic.
The Health Department ordered 800 doses of the seasonal flu vaccine but received none.
In the absence of sufficient vaccine to go around, health-care providers are advising the nonimmunized to take practical precautions to prevent the spread of the disease. That includes frequent hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, avoiding people with flu-like symptoms and staying home when sick.
"The main thing is to keep children at home until their fever breaks," Barrett said, "and wear masks when you're around sick people."
Symptoms of flu include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and/or body aches.
The Web site www.flu.gov provides a list of pharmacies offering H1N1 vaccine clinics, and it is updated daily.
Click on North Carolina on the map, then click on the H1N1 and seasonal flu shot locator under the Flu Shot Locator heading by entering ZIP code and the number of miles radius for the search (from five to 50 miles).
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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