By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Hill County Health Department and Northern Montana Hospital learned Tuesday to expect a shortage in flu vaccines after the suspension of a major vaccine distributor threatened the entire nation's supplies.
British authorities suspended the number two distributor of flu vaccinations, Chiron Corp., because of problems at its vaccine manufacturing plant in Liverpool, England, which primarily supplies the American market.
Dr. Bruce Richardson, Hill County health officer, said Montana Northern Hospital had received its full shipment of nearly 3,000 doses from Aventis Pasteur, the French company that is the number one distributor of flu vaccines for the United States.
Two hundred of those are specifically for children, Richardson said.
The Hill County Health Department had placed an order for 2,000 doses from Chiron but had not yet received them, Richardson said. It has 300 doses for children on hand and roughly 1,700 additional doses that did not come from Chiron Corp.
"This is a very new turn of events. We are awaiting new recommendations from the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)" on how to handle it, hospital spokeswoman Kathie Newell said today.
"The CDC had been telling people to wait to get shots in November anyway, to last them better through the winter season. We really are hoping that people will be patient with us to see how Havre and Montana will deal the situation," Newell said.
"In general, what's going to have to happen is that those at a high risk will get it and those healthy adults will not get immunized," Richardson said.
Richardson said the Health Department will also explore a plan to acquire a nasal spray vaccination which can only be used by healthy adults. The drawback of the spray is that it is relatively expensive, he added.
The Hill County Health Department had planned a countywide flu vaccination exercise for Nov. 9-10. The event was meant both to protect as many county residents against the flu as possible and as an exercise in emergency planning.
The county has not yet decided if that vaccination effort will go forward, Newell said.
"We had some training related to incident management the last two days and we have a meeting coming up at which we were going to assign job responsibilities for the (vaccine) drill and the clinic," Newell said. "I think we'll be getting together very quickly to determine what we will be doing."
"I venture to say we will be following the CDC guidelines very, very closely once they determine what we all need to do to be sure that the people who really need it get what's out there," Newell said.
Counties across the nation will reserve the limited supply of flu shots for the elderly, very young, and impaired who are at greatest risk of dying from the flu.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.