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Hill County feeling the effect of flu vaccine shortage


Statewide supplies of flu vaccines are stretched thin, and the Hill County Health Department is feeling the shortage.

"We have a waiting list of about 200 people," said county health director Cindy Smith.

This season the flu has hit earlier and harder than some experts anticipated, and more people are seeking flu shots than in the past several years, resulting in a statewide shortage of available vaccine. Although most people recover from the flu, it can be fatal in some cases. On Monday, a preliminary test from a 21-month-old boy who died in a Missoula hospital was positive for Influenza-A.

Hill County health workers have administered more than 2,000 vaccinations this season, and available supplies cannot keep up with the demand, Smith said.

Two major brands of flu vaccine are used. One, the Evans vaccine, is only approved for people over age 4. Those who do not fall within that range must be given the Aventis vaccine.

"It's hitting children especially hard, and the problem is the vaccine that is approved for children, we're having an especially hard time getting," Smith said.

A new type of flu vaccine, called FluMist, is also available for people between the ages of 9 and 50, but the nasal spray is more expensive than the traditional shot given by needle.

The county has some supplies of the Evans vaccine, and more was expected to arrive today. Supplies of Aventis are lower, however, Smith said. Finding more has proven difficult, and the county hopes to work with Northern Montana Healthcare to either purchase some of its Aventis or trade supplies, Smith said.

"The hospital has some supplies, and we're trying to work with them to get them to people who are high risk," Smith said. "Right now we're trying to ensure that people at increased risk of getting the flu receive the vaccine."

The hospital was taking an inventory of its vaccine supplies this morning. Northern Montana Medical Group said its flu shot clinic has been canceled and nurses are now screening patients to assess their level of risk for contracting the flu.

Unless the county can buy existing Aventis supplies from other health departments or from the hospital, it will have to do without until February, the earliest a new shipment will be available, Smith said.

That creates a problem for younger children, who must be given two flu shots, one a month after the first, if it's their first flu vaccination, she added.

"My thing is I don't want to give one shot if they can't get that second one within one month," she said.

The Health Department's supply of Aventis is now reserved for infants, the elderly, and high-risk patients, Smith said. High-risk people include people over age 50, infants under 23 months and anyone with chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

Smith said she is confidant that the Health Department will find more Aventis. So far this year, manufacturers have produced 83 million doses of vaccine, Smith said, adding that the United States has never used more than 80 million doses in a season.

"The state is doing an assessment to see who has vaccine, and where supply levels are at," she said. " There's still vaccine out there, it's just a matter of finding it."

The Hill County Health Department is not the only agency facing a vaccine shortage. The Butte-Silver Bow County Health Department ran out of vaccine last month, though doctors' offices in the area were able to offset that shortage, said Terri Hocking, director of public health nursing services.

On Monday, officials at the Yellowstone City-County Health Department began restricting shots to those considered high risk, said Clark Snyder, preventive health specialist.

People who have the flu can receive an anti-viral medicine from their physician. The medicine will help reduce symptoms and can prevent the spread of the flu to other people.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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