Health Department mandates flu vaccine must go to highest-risk individuals

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(Host) On Wednesday Vermont officials ordered health care providers to give flu vaccines only to those people at the highest risk. Officials say making the vaccine guidelines mandatory instead of voluntary will send a clear signal to doctors and the public about who should receive the state’s limited supply of flu shots.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Because of the serious shortage of the vaccine in Vermont and nationally, the state has ordered that health care providers limit only give flu shots to people who are at a high risk of serious illness from contracting the flu.

Health Commissioner Doctor Paul Jarris says the providers asked the state to issue an order instead of voluntary guidelines to make it clear that many people who are accustomed to getting an annual flu shot won’t receive one this year. Jarris says it’s the first time his department has issued such an order.

Ideally the state would need more than twice the vaccine on hand to vaccinate everyone at risk. Jarris children at the greatest danger from the flu virus began getting the vaccine last week. The state will limit adults receiving the vaccine to a number of high risk categories, including: people with certain chronic conditions that require frequent medical attention; the frail elderly; residents of nursing homes and long term care centers; women who will be pregnant during the flu season; and health workers who provide care to high risk patients.

Jarris stressed that for normally healthy people, the flu does not pose a serious health risk. He says currently there are no cases of flu reported anywhere in the U.S.

(Jarris) “We are concerned that we don’t currently have enough vaccine and we suspect we won’t ultimately have all the vaccine we need or want. But calm is important here.”

(Zind) Jarris says its possible up to 7,000 additional doses of the vaccine will be made available to Vermont. And he said his department has been in touch with Canadian health officials about the legal issues involved in Vermonters crossing the border for flu shots.

(Jarris) “From our point of view, before the Department of Health recommended that, we would want to make sure there is sufficient supply of vaccine there and that Vermonters could legally cross the border. We are in the process are talking with individuals around some of the laws in crossing the border to another country. Not U.S. laws, but Canadian laws to assure that that could happen.”

(Zind) Jarris says the nationwide shortage of the flu vaccine should be a wake up call for officials to take steps to prevent the situation in the future. The shortage occurred when contamination was found in some batches made by the British manufacturer that provides half of the U.S. supply of the vaccine.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Burlington.

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