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Area Pharmacies Jammed as Vaccine Shortage Strikes "Devastating" Blow to Public Health

Matthew Hersh

The flu vaccine shortage affecting the country for the past week has taken its toll on the Princeton area, as well as placing strains on local pharmacies that have been forced to administer the vaccines to a limited number of residents.

Last week, the U.K.-based Chiron Corporation, responsible for an estimated half of the American supply of flu vaccinations, had its license suspended because of sterility concerns in its product Fluvirin.

That suspension has triggered concern throughout the region as the country finds itself on the brink of the flu season, a time when many residents, specifically young children and elderly individuals, are administered a vaccination designed to stave off the virus.

Last week, the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention said it would begin tracking current vaccine supplies and match flu "hot spots" with the supplies already available.

According to the Princeton Regional Health Commission (PRHC), an estimated 48 million doses of flu vaccine intended for the U.S. have been scrapped.

The vaccine shortage has shut down area flu clinics. As a result, hundreds lined up outside Eckerd Drug Store at the Princeton Shopping Center Satuday to purchase flu shots that would have otherwise been given free at clinics.

Eckerd, along with other national drug stores, has already received flu vaccine shipments from Aventis, the other major supplier of the vaccine. Aventis has reported it could produce enough for an additional one million vaccinations this year.

"Basically, we have no flu vaccine at all at this time," said Henry David, health officer at PRHC. Both flu clinics scheduled to be held at the Princeton Senior Resource Center have been suspended until more information is forthcoming from the state health department or from the CDC.

Only about 52 million doses, or half the amount supplied in a given year, are available for the public, Mr. David added. "It's devastating from the local public health standpoint."

Those in most need for flu shots, Mr. David said, are senior citizens, people who are chronically ill, children six to 23 months old, and pregnant women.

Other CDC priority groups in need of flu vaccines are persons aged 2 through 64 with underlying chronic medical conditions; residents of nursing homes and long care facilities; children aged six month through 18 years who receive chronic aspirin therapy; and health care workers involved in direct patient care.

All indications at the moment forecast a "normal" flu season, Mr. David said, although he recommended that someone who is sick or showing flu-like symptoms should stay home and recover.

Residents in need of flu shots should try to receive vaccinations through a medical provider, or take advantage of the pharmacies and supermarkets offering shots. However, Mr. David warned that since pharmacy and supermarket quantities are limited, supplies might move quickly. In addition to checking with a care provider, residents looking for the closest vaccine outlet can visit www.findaflushot.com. As of Monday evening, there are 12 outlets within a 15-mile radius with vaccine supplies, the closest being in South Brunswick and Cranbury.

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