Gemma Smith gives Donna Atkins a flu shot during a Kenai Public Health Center clinic at the Kenai Senior Center earlier this week.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The once-positive outlook for keeping abreast of this year's flu season was diminished by the Oct. 5 announcement that Chiron Corp., one of only two suppliers of the flu vaccine for the United States, could not deliver its 46 million promised doses.
What that means for Kenai Peninsula residents is not everyone who wants a flu shot can have one.
Public and private health care providers are following the Centers For Disease Control's recommendations and currently are vaccinating only people in high-risk categories.
"We are only taking walk-ins that are high risk those over 65 or those with chronic illnesses," said Heike Dykstra, medical assistant for the Medi Center.
Other CDC recommendations include: children 6 to 23 months of age; people living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities; persons with weakened immune systems; pregnant women; persons 6 months to 18 years of age who take aspirin daily; household members and out-of-home care givers of infants under 6 months of age; and health care workers who provide direct, face-to-face and hands-on care to patients. Even the task of covering those on the list is proving difficult.
"(The vaccine) is like liquid gold," said Janet Gleason, infectious control nurse at Central Peninsula General Hospital.
Gleason said the cost of purchasing the vaccine last year was $7 a dose and this year it shot up to $50. She said the hospital has enough vaccine to cover its staff but not enough for all patients who might need one.
"What we have left will be for patients on a first-come, first-serve basis," she said.
The cost for consumers on the peninsula is anywhere from $7 to $20, depending on where they go.
The exact number of available doses is unknown, as is when the next shipment will arrive.
"The vaccine had to be ordered a year a head of time," said Tom Hodel of Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.
"It is by guess and by golly how much to order. Really, it's the luck of the draw," he said.
Hodel ordered from Chiron Corp. but didn't receive any this year. He chalked it up to a lesson learned.
"We will diversify next year and order from more than one source," he said.
Providers who were able to procure the vaccine received anywhere from a third to half of what they ordered.
"We got 70 doses, that's all, and there is very little of it left," said Pam Kloote, staff pharmacist for Fred Meyer.
Central Peninsula Health Centers Inc. received only a third of their order and have no idea if more is coming.
"We do have vaccine left, and anyone in the community who is a patient and meets the CDC guidelines can receive a shot as long as they are available," said Debbie Standefer, operations director for Central Peninsula Health Centers Inc.
The Kenai Public Health Center has about 430 doses left of the 1,250 it received and only 230 of those doses can be used for children 6 to 35 months of age.
Area residents who fit the guidelines and still need a vaccination will have to call around to see where it is still available.
Most providers are working on a walk-in basis and not keeping waiting lists.
Kloote said the Fred Meyer pharmacy is taking names for a waiting list, just in case more vaccine arrives. But nothing is guaranteed.
News footage has shown lines of unhappy people waiting for shots or trying to get one.
Area providers say that isn't the case here.
"Generally, people have been very understanding about the need to save the vaccine for those who need it most," JoAnn Hagen, public health nurse manager at the Kenai Public Health Center, said in a press release.
"The Unocal employee health program donated its unused doses," she said. "They donated them to help the under- or uninsured. Now more people who fit the CDC criteria will be able to get vaccinated because (Unocal) believed in giving to the community."
State officials remain hopeful about getting more vaccine, despite the current shortages.
"Alaska is faring a little better than other states, because of our health care system in general and because providers use the public health system more than other states," said Laurel Wood, immunization program manager for the Division of Public Health.
Wood said when more vaccine is made available, the public health clinics are on the list of providers to receive it. She stressed that people should remain optimistic.
"It is important for people to understand that there is still vaccine in the U.S. and some more of it is coming," Wood said. "It's moving slowly, but it is moving, and people should just keep checking back with their provider."
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