By Ron VandenBoom
People hoping to get an early start on the flu season by getting vaccinated early may have to delay their plans for at least another week or two.
A temporary shortage of flu vaccine has caused the Hill County Health Nurse, Cindy Smith, to postpone vaccinations until supplies arrive to meet the demand.
Smith said there will be enough vaccine, but it's going to come slowly.
"It just took a while for them to manufacture the vaccine this year... because they wanted to make sure they had enough protection in the serum before they got it out to us," Smith said Tuesday.
Smith, who in past year would already have started the annual vaccinations, said she has been notified that she will receive 15 percent of her order for the vaccine within the next week or two.
That should amount to about 280 doses, she said. She has ordered a total of about 1,700 doses.
Smith said for the moment she is taking the names of people who have stopped in or called the office so she can establish a priority schedule and a call list.
People most at risk will be put at the top of the priority list, she said.
That list will include the elderly and those with long-term health problems such as heart disease, lung disease, asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, and anemia.
Second in priority will be people involved in public health and safety such as health care workers, policemen and firemen, she said.
Smith said she has been told that the bulk of the vaccine, 58 percent, should arrive in late November and the final shipment of 27 percent is expected in December.
Smith will notify people on the priority list when the first batch of vaccine arrives so they can come get their shot. She said she would also notify the Havre Daily News and the radio station when the serum becomes available.
"I don't want to alarm people who don't have their shot yet," she said. "People shouldn't be worried. They still have time."
Smith said shots can still be effective even into February and March and a lot of the time the major part of the flu season doesn't even arrive until December or January.
Clinics that Smith said she normally arranges at Eagles Manner, the North Central Montana Senior Center, and in communities along the Hi-Line have also been postponed due to the delay in getting serum. She said she will schedule the clinics just like in past years, but she does not know yet when or where they might be.
Smith said Northern Montana Hospital has received about 2,000 doses and has distributed it to the various doctors at the hospital and at the clinic (North Montana Medical Group).
She said people wanting a shot can contact their family doctor to see whether they still have serum and if they do they can get a shot there. Normally, she said, no appointment is necessary to get the shot, but people should call in advance to let them know they're coming.
For people who prefer to get their shot from the County Health Department, the cost this year will be $10 and it can be covered by Medicare, Smith said.
For more information or to get on a priority list for a shot, call the Health Department at 265-5481.