Officials says state can’t meet flu vaccine demand

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(Host) The Vermont Department of Health has upgraded the status of the state’s influenza outbreak from ‘local’ to ‘widespread’ as the number of reported cases increases. And state officials say they’ve been working on getting more of the flu vaccine.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Thirty-five other states have also reported widespread cases of influenza. The flu season began early this year and the high demand for the vaccine has created a nationwide shortage. Vermont physicians have reported long waiting lists of people requesting the vaccine. The state last week distributed an additional 3,000 doses, but Health Department officials say the demand for the vaccine is greater than the supply.

Because of the shortage, the federal government has announced it is purchasing several hundred thousand doses of the flu vaccine from a British company. Vermont State Epidemiologist Doctor Cort Lohff says its likely Vermont’s will receive fewer than a thousand of the new doses.

(Lohff) “It’s going to mean that Vermont is only going to get a very small percentage of that allocation and the bottom line is it’s not likely to meet the need that we’ll likely have.”

(Host) Lohff says because of the shortage, the department is asking physicians to reserve the vaccines for those who are considered at risk of becoming seriously ill from the flu. Lohff says the additional vaccine won’t arrive until next month. Once a person has been vaccinated it can take up to two weeks for it to fully take effect.

(Lohff) “Which means that if the vaccine doesn’t come until mid-January for example, those persons who receive the vaccine would not be fully protected until the end of January. Historically we see the influenza activity peak in late January or early February so it’s hard to say if that vaccine – if and when it does come – will be of any use to folks.”

(Zind) According to the Centers for Disease Control this year’s strain of flu is not uncommon – but it is serious. Historically, the strain has been associated with more severe seasons. But the CDC says despite an early beginning to the flu season, there is so far no evidence that this outbreak is worse than past years.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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