There isn't enough flu vaccine to go around this year. In the Verde Valley and the rest of Yavapai County, even at-risk patients may have difficulty finding a source for the vaccine that could prevent a life-threatening case of influenza.
Yavapai County Community Health Services announced Friday that all county-sponsored flu-shot clinics have been cancelled. The department does not expect to receive any vaccine this year. Normally, the department immunizes about 7,000 people each year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that flu vaccine expected from Chiron Corporation would not be distributed in the United States. That cuts the supply of vaccine that health officials were counting on nearly in half.
CDC officials said the remaining supply of influenza vaccine for the United States is about 54 million doses of Fluzone, manufactured by Aventis Pasteur, Inc. However, approximately 30 million doses of that vaccine have already been distributed by the supplier, leaving about 24 million doses for the entire United States.
The Arizona Department of Health Services is asking people who are not at risk to forego receiving the flu vaccine so the remaining supply will reach more high-risk patients. The ADHS defines the low-risk group as "healthy adults less than 65 years old that do not have chronic medical conditions or frequent contact with people with medical conditions."
Marcia Jacobson, director of Yavapai County Community Health Services, told The Verde Independent that Yavapai County's entire vaccine supply was to come from Chiron.
"We tried to access the availability of vaccine," Jacobson said. "But we are without vaccine at this time."
"There really is no place for people to go for public-type vaccination services," she said.
Jacobson said it is important for people to remain calm about the situation. "There is still about half of the vaccine in the pipeline that hasn't reached its destination."
That does not mean that Jacobson expects any of the remaining vaccine to make its way to public immunization clinics. The YCCHS press release Friday stated that "Available vaccine doses will be re-directed to nursing homes and other priority group patients through private clinics."
Jacobson said people should keep checking with their health care providers.
In the absence of flu vaccine, state and county health officials recommend that people seek appropriate and early medical intervention because complications from influenza can often be controlled with prescription antiviral drugs.
FluMist, a nasal-spray vaccine, is an alternate possibility for healthy people ages 5-49, but nasal-spray vaccine is more expensive than injectable flu vaccine and is rarely covered by health insurance plans, according to state and county health officials.
Jacobson recommends that people follow basic hygiene practices as a defense against colds and influenza viruses. Frequent hand washing and covering one's mouth when coughing and sneezing does prevent the spread of disease, according to Jacobson.
"When we stay home from work with a fever or other flu symptoms, we are using simple but effective infection control practices," Jacobson said in the YCCHS release.
All federal, state and county health agencies agree on what qualifies people as being part of the at-risk population.
• All children 6-23 months of age.
• Adults 65 years of age and older.
• Persons 2-64 years of age with underlying chronic medical conditions, such as heart and lung disease, asthma, diabetes, and people with weakened immune systems.
• All women who will be pregnant during the influenza season.
• Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
• Children 6 months to 18 years of age who are on chronic aspirin therapy.
• Health care workers involved in direct patient care.
• Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children under 6 months of age.