Possible shortage may lead to flu vaccine rationing

LAS VEGAS - People who want help fending off the flu this year may be denied the vaccine because of a possible shortage nationwide.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Saturday in a copyrighted story that local health officials are adhering to a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a strategy for rationing the vaccine to those who need it most.

And regardless of whether there is a vaccine shortage, CDC officials said inoculations will be delayed. Doses usually are distributed in September, but local health officials won't administer them until mid-November.

''The word we've gotten right now is that the flu vaccinations will be available late,'' said Dr. William Berliner with HealthInsight, a local peer review organization that plans to launch a flu vaccine campaign this year. ''Obviously with the delayed vaccines, there's an increased risk of somebody getting the flu earlier.''

About 20,000 deaths and 110,000 hospitalizations are caused by influenza nationwide every year. In 1998, 258 people in Clark County died from the flu and pneumonia related to the virus.

''The plan is to give the vaccine to people at high risk first, starting with the 65 and older group,'' said Terri Mitchell, public health nurse for immunizations at the Clark County Health District. ''We are concerned that everyone won't get a flu shot. We don't want to alarm people, but we need to make people aware that they may not get the shot if they're not in the high-risk group.''

Although officials with the CDC have not declared a national influenza vaccine shortage yet, they are warning hospitals, private physicians and health districts across the country to delay inoculations and plan for a shortage.

The CDC will have more accurate numbers on doses available toward the end of summer as the manufacturers continue to grow the vaccine.


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