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Fewer Flu Vaccines Expected for Region, Patience Is Urged Throughout Shortage

Matthew Hersh

Flu shot relief to the region will not be as extensive as once anticipated, according to officials at the Princeton Regional Health Commission (PRHC).

Instead of the 1,400 additional vaccines expected, the area will see an incoming order of "somewhere in the hundreds" at best, said David Henry, health officer at the PRHC, adding that those estimates could likely be in the low hundreds.

"We're waiting to hear from the state health department to see how many doses we'll be entitled to get."

Mr. Henry added that delivery time will be announced within two months of when the state announces the number of shots to be supplied to the region.

"But it's going to be far less than the 1,400 we ordered earlier this year," he said.

At this point, Mr. Henry has not seen any regional health ramifications from the lack of flu vaccinations. The state has been working with local health agencies to carry out surveys in both "active and passive" surveillance of hospitals, nursing homes and schools, Mr. Henry said, adding that the risk climate "looks about stable."

"There's no indication that we've experienced any problems at this time."

But while the crisis climate following Chiron Corporation's announcement that it would not deliver about 48 million vaccines to the U.S. has subsided somewhat, Mr. Henry said, people are still waiting anxiously for news on possible vaccine availability. Chiron, the U.K.-based group responsible for an estimated half of the American supply of flu vaccinations, had its license suspended because of sterility concerns in its product Fluvirin.

Nearly all of the long-term care facilities in New Jersey that have been supplied by Chiron are without flu vaccine.

In the meantime, however, Mr. Henry said people wanting vaccinations need to wait until news from the state is in.

"I think one of the main things that people need to focus on is to try to be patient. As soon as we hear back from the state on how much we can actually order, then we'll have a little bit better of an indication as to how many shots will be coming in," he said.

The best thing to do until getting a flu shot, Mr. Henry said, is to use standard preventative precautions, such as carrying tissues, frequent handwashing, and other sanitation tactics used to help stop the spread of colds and other illnesses.

Mr. Henry said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) need to work better with vaccine providers in the future to prevent similar incidents.

The vaccine shortage has shut down area flu clinics that administer flu shots for free, and the PRHC is weighing whether it should hold a flu shot lottery similar to that of Montgomery Township, but until a decision has been made, residents are urged to speak with their medical provider for possible options.

According to the CDC, people listed as having priority for flu shots are senior citizens, the chronically ill, children six to 23 months old, and pregnant women.

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

For CDC guidelines and patient options, visit www.cdc.gov.

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