Health Department tries to direct flu vaccine to highest risk group

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(Host) Health officials say that because the state is faced with an unprecedented shortfall in flu vaccines this year, they’ll try to narrow the list of people who should receive the vaccine.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The nation’s supply of the flu vaccine is half of what had been anticipated. That’s because of a contamination problem at British manufacturer that was a major source of the vaccine. State officials say that Vermont health care providers had ordered a disproportionate share of the vaccine from that supplier, which means the state is experiencing a greater shortfall than some other parts of the nation.

There are about 36,000 doses of the flu vaccine currently in Vermont. Officials say 80,000 Vermonters are considered at a higher risk of potentially serious affects from the flu. Department of Health officials have been meeting this week with health care providers to decide how to best use the vaccines on hand.

Dr. Cort Lohff is state epidemiologist. Lohff says since there isn’t enough vaccine for all at-risk individuals, officials have to whittle the list down to those at highest risk.

(Lohff) “We’ve been meeting with physicians around the state, discussing this very same issue. We realize we have a severe shortage and we recognize we have a significant high-risk population in the state. We need to further refine, further specify those high risk groups to essentially allow some people to be deferred from getting vaccinated and allow other people that have greater risk, to ensure that the do get the vaccine.”

(Zind) Lohff says the state’s recommendations on who should receive the flu vaccine could be announced as early as Thursday.

Another issue officials are grappling with is how to redistribute the vaccine to make sure it’s available in all parts of the state. Right now some health care providers have more vaccine than others.

Lohff says it’s likely Vermont will receive more vaccine in the near future, but not enough to make up for the shortfall. He says state’s guidelines will be issued as recommendations; the department hopes both consumers and providers will voluntarily comply.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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