Health providers prepared for flu
Record amount of vaccine ordered; recommendations call for children ages 6 months to 19 years to get inoculated
With a large amount of vaccine available this year, children and teenagers are the priority in the upcoming flu season and county health officials are confident that those in need of shots can receive them.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 146 million doses of flu vaccine expected nationwide this year is the most ever produced and comes at a time when the CDC is recommending that children between the ages of 6 months and 19 years get vaccinated.
In the 2007-2008 season, there were 83 reported deaths from the flu among children in that age group. Previously, the CDC had recommended the flu vaccine for children age 5 and younger.
"The vaccine is being shipped early and I think [the CDC feels] there is going to be enough vaccine to accommodate the new requirements of kids," said Cindy Edwards, nurse administrator for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Service's immunization program.
Edwards said the county HHS is receiving close to 7,000 doses of either the injectable or nasal spray flu vaccine and will offer clinics at county health centers.
In the private sector, the Rockville-based Adventist HealthCare has received 9,000 vaccinations already and expects to administer more than 15,000 this season, a few thousand more than usual, said Judy Lichty, Adventist HealthCare regional director of health and wellness. Adventist will hold clinics at churches, senior centers and community centers, including a clinic at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville.
A clinic will be held noon Oct. 26 in the conference room at Washington Adventist Hospital, 7600 Carroll Ave. in Takoma Park.
Both the Rockville and Takoma Park events will include a pediatric clinic. Adventist has about 1,000 doses specifically for children between 6 months and 5 years old and will have pediatric staffers on had to administer the shots, Lichty said.
"Children are no longer so much in homes, they are in day cares and schools so their risk of exposure to flu is much higher than it used to be," she said, adding that CDC has wanted to increase priority for children in past years but never had enough vaccine to do so.
Edwards said the most vulnerable to contracting the flu – seniors, pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses and those living or working with those people – remain priorities.
Passport Health, the largest purchaser of flu vaccine in the country besides the federal government, will offer 12,000 to 15,000 doses in the Washington, D.C., area and 3,000 to 4,000 in the county, said Kara Noble, director of medical services.
Passport began holding clinics Monday at businesses and will offer flu shots from its offices on Elton Road in Silver Spring and at Wildwood Medical Center in Bethesda. Noble said Passport also has 2,000 doses for young children and the FluMist nasal spray, which is preferred among youths.
"We encourage our businesses to invite family to come," she said. "Companies will often pay for employees partially or fully and the whole family can be vaccinated at same time."
The projected abundance of doses in recent years follows a 2005-2006 season that featured shortages and delayed shipments and a 2004-2005 season in which 20,000 county residents vied for about 800 doses in a lottery during one of the largest vaccine shortages in memory.
At that time, there were much fewer manufacturers of flu vaccines and when Chiron Corp., a major producer, had a contaminated batch of vaccines in 2004, the United States was left with less than half of its expected vaccine. Lichty said there are far more manufacturers now and Adventist will use three different suppliers this season.
Maxim Health Systems, which offers flu shot clinics at area supermarkets and pharmacies beginning today, plans 25,000 clinics nationwide and 250 to 300 in Montgomery County, said Bryan Borchard, accounts manager for Maxim Healthcare Services in Silver Spring.
"As a company, we have large supply of vaccines," he said. "From a manufacturer's standpoint, there is no shortage which is good thing seeing as how there is a larger population in need."
Some of Maxim's bigger partnerships include Giant supermarkets, CVS and Rite-Aid convenient stores and Target, Borchard said.
The flu, a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus, is characterized by high fevers, stomach, head and muscle aches, a dry cough, runny nose and fatigue, and is spread by coughing and sneezing.
Health officials are hoping that this year's flu shots will prove more effective than last year when vaccine failed to cover several strains. With more than 70 different flu strains, Lichty said the vaccine will increase the odds of protection even if the vaccine isn't a "perfect match" to a strain.
Both Lichty and Edwards also said the country's recent financial crisis should not discourage people from getting flu shots this year. Even for those uninsured, flu shots range from $20 to $35 and are offered for free for children by HHS, Edwards said.
The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services will hold flu vaccination clinics Nov. 12 at the Dennis Avenue Health Center, 2000 Dennis Ave. in Silver Spring, Nov. 20 at the Germantown Health Center, 12900 Middlebrook Road in Germantown and Dec. 2 at the Silver Spring Health Center, 8630 Fenton St. Call 240-777-1050 for information on county clinics. The county Web site, www.montgomerycountymd.gov will be updated with flu vaccine information soon.
For Adventist HealthCare clinics, call its flu hot line at 301-315-3800 or visit www.Takeyourflushot.com.
Maxim Health Systems will again hold clinics in county supermarkets. Visit www.findaflushot.com and enter a ZIP code for dates, times and locations.
To learn more about Passport Health clinics, call 301-408-4554.