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SHIPPING SLOW FOR FLU SHOTS EVEN AFTER THANKSGIVING, GET VACCINE, DOCTORS ADVISE.

Byline: TROY ANDERSON Staff Writer

Delays in shipping the flu vaccine have created a pent-up demand nationwide, and health officials worried Monday that millions of doses will go to waste because frustrated patients will give up before they get inoculated.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the public health director for Los Angeles County, said many doctors are complaining they won't be getting shipments until the week of Thanksgiving, when interest in getting vaccinated traditionally wanes.

But Fielding, along with state and federal officials, advised getting a flu shot, even after Thanksgiving and into December.

``It's important to get flu shots even if you had not gotten it by the time you planned to get it. ... It's not too late in November or December to get a flu shot.''

Caroline Crews, spokeswoman for the Glendale-based Lakeside Medical Group, said doctors have been able to vaccinate only high-risk patients because of delays in receiving large shipments.

Karen Alvarado-Pantazi, the flu clinic coordinator at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Panorama City, said vaccinations became available there in late October.

``We are currently seeing a lot of our members who come in every year, as well as new people coming in for flu vaccine,'' she said. ``We do currently have enough vaccine to supply us throughout the flu season, which lasts until April.

``Some areas are seeing a higher demand than others since the flu has been seen in San Diego. We are sharing our vaccine to make sure we have plenty for our members throughout Southern California.''

Curtis Allen, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said 77 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed nationwide, with a record 110 million to 115 million doses expected to be shipped this year, topping last year's supply by roughly 30 million doses.

Federal officials say there are serious implications if millions of doses go unused.

``Obviously, if the vaccine is not used this year, it has to be destroyed,'' Allen said. ``If the vaccine is not used, there is always a danger of manufacturers leaving the market.

``If they leave the market, we may get into a situation where we may not have enough vaccine in future years.''

The effort to increase production comes amid fears that avian flu virus - spreading throughout Asia and Europe on the wings of birds - could mutate into a form easily transmissible among humans and start a global epidemic.

``It's very important to maximize our production, not only to control seasonal influenza, but so we can be prepared to handle the production of vaccine if an influenza pandemic emerges,'' said Dr. Howard Baker, chief of the Immunization Branch for the California Department of Health Services.

Baker said vaccine doses arrived later this year because more were produced, a trend that's likely to be repeated in future years.

``We need to get both the public to accept this and providers to keep vaccinating because this may become the new norm,'' Baker said. ``It doesn't look like we'll get all our vaccine in November in the future. It looks like it will come in throughout the season so we need to shift our vaccination season later.''

So far, there have been concentrated outbreaks of the flu on the East Coast, but only sporadic cases in California, Baker said.

But Fielding said there is no way to know how severe this flu season will be.

While anyone can get the flu and the infection can be severe, many groups, including pregnant women, people over age 50 and those with chronic health problems -- heart, lung or kidney disease or diabetes - are at highest risk for complications.

And for the first time, doctors in the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children ages 24 months to 59 months be vaccinated; previously, the recommendation was limited to children ages 6 months to 23 months, who are nearly as likely to be hospitalized for complications of flu as are those age 65 years and older.

Some groups who believe mercury in flu vaccines is linked to increased rates of autism have discouraged children from getting vaccinated.

But Baker said science suggests the risk of flu complications in children outweighs the risk of the mercury in vaccines.

Also, a new law took effect in California this year requiring that flu vaccines for pregnant women and children under age 3 be mercury-free.

But due to a shortage of mercury-free vaccines, the state Legislature on Nov. 3 allowed for a six-week exemption to the law so parents have options for vaccination during times of short supply. Shipments of the mercury-free vaccines are expected in the state in mid-December.

Each year in the United States, 5 percent to 20 percent of the population is infected with the flu, about 36,000 people die, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with complications.

troy.anderson.name(at)dailynews.com

(213) 974-8985

CAPTION(S):

photo, 2 boxes, chart

Photo:

Diego Aguilar, 2, watches Ceciel Soriano, a clinical nurse at the Pacoima Health Center, give him a flu shot Monday while his mother, Stephanie Aguilar of Van Nuys, holds him.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

Box:

(1) HINTS FOR THE FLU SEASON

SOURCE: County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health

(2) ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Chart:

Flu shot supply

Associated Press
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 14, 2006
Words:884
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