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Some flu vaccine shortages surfacing

BY JIM HALL and LINDLEY ESTES

An early burst of flu cases in the region has led to spot shortages of the flu vaccine and to extra visitor precautions at local hospitals.

Workers at local pharmacies said Thursday afternoon that they are seeing new interest in the flu shot after reports of early and intense flu activity across Virginia and the nation.

“Over the last week, we have administered twice the number of flu shots than we had the previous week,” said Ian Slinkman, spokesman for Patient First, which has two locations in the area.

Patient First has ample supplies of the vaccine, Slinkman said. But other local pharmacies say they have run out.

A worker at the CVS Pharmacy on Jefferson Davis Highway near Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg said yesterday that the store had a good supply of the vaccine, but the company’s Harrison Road location had only 10 doses left and was not sure when it would get more.

The Giant food store in Fredericksburg’s Eagle Village and the Giant store on Town and Country Road in Stafford County had good supplies, workers said. However, the Giant on Plank Road in Spotsylvania County is out. A worker there said additional doses may arrive over the weekend.

Employees at the Walgreens stores on Plank Road and Rollingwood Road in Spotsylvania said they were temporarily out of the vaccine but hoped to get more soon. At Walgreens headquarters in Chicago, the company reported last week that its pharmacists had given 5.5 million flu shots since the start of the flu season, compared to 5.3 million last season.

“Due to increased demand,  select locations may currently be experiencing shortages in the supply of vaccine,” a company spokesman said Thursday.

The company expects to restock its pharmacies and continue offering shots throughout the flu season, the spokesman said.

At flu clinics sponsored by the Rappahannock Area Health District, “We have seen strong demand for vaccine but have not experienced shortages,” said Dr. Brooke Rossheim, director.

So far, the flu season has been unusual in its timing if not its intensity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the last 30 flu seasons, the peak occurred most often in February (14 seasons), followed by January and March (5 seasons each). In its latest flu report, the CDC lists Virginia as one of 41 states with “widespread” flu activity, the highest of its five reporting levels. Virginia has been at the “widespread” level for four consecutive weeks, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Both local hospital companies have reacted to these reports by handing out surgical masks.

Officials at Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center said they planned to place a sign at the main entrance Friday morning, asking visitors to use masks when seeing patients there. The sign says that the masks are recommended because of the “increased number of flu cases in the local area.”

“We are encouraging people if they are ill, not to come visit people,” said Jeanne Burkett, hospital spokeswoman.

Mary Washington Healthcare also has appealed to visitors to stay away if sick and to use masks. The company went a step further this season and for the first time asked employees to wear masks if they did not get flu shots. The policy went into effect Jan. 7. More than 88 percent of Mary Washington’s workers got the flu shot.

“It’s all to make sure we stop as much as we can the spread of the disease,” said Debbie McInnis, spokeswoman for Mary Washington Healthcare.

Jim Hall: 540/374-5433

jhall@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/newsdesk/2013/01/10/some-flu-vaccine-shortages-surfacing/