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California and the West

Vaccine Arrives Just in Time for Flu Season

Health: Counties should get deliveries by next week. Since they need 10 days to take effect, shots will have to be administered quickly.

November 30, 2000|CHRISTINE HANLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The California Department of Health Services has finally received its entire order of flu vaccine for the year, and counties across the state can expect deliveries by early next week.

With a sigh of relief, state health officials say that the new shipments should give social service workers enough time to protect the elderly, homeless and other vulnerable populations from the virus--for this year, at least.

Historically, flu season arrives in California at the end of December. Since the vaccine takes about 10 days to work, the shots will need to be administered quickly.

"We were on pins and needles trying to get it all in, and making sure the counties got it on time. We're happy it didn't come to a crisis," said Norma Arceo, a state health department spokeswoman.

Across the state and nationwide, vaccine deliveries have been delayed because of manufacturing problems. Some leading producers reported having trouble growing a common strain of the virus. Others got late starts because of quality control issues.

In California, the state health department ordered 700,000 doses to distribute to county health agencies that serve the elderly, poor and sick. That order does not include doses for private physicians, pharmacies and hospitals, which provide 90% of all flu vaccines in the state.

With supplies strained for public and private providers, social service workers in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Ventura, Imperial and San Francisco counties were forced to cancel or curtail free vaccination clinics.

As new shipments trickle in, and counties receive the balance of their orders, outreach clinics have been resuming flu vaccinations for high-risk populations.

Los Angeles County, which had to cancel more than 30 of its 165 clinics this month, received about 20,000 doses Tuesday, the last of its full order of 114,090 shots.

"We should be able to complete all of the outreach clinics we had scheduled," said John Schunhoff, chief of operations of public health in Los Angeles County.

Orange County got 91,000 doses Tuesday, with its final 5,150 doses promised by Monday, Arceo said.

"Our clinics are open. We're just going to use it up until it's all gone," said Mary Wright, immunization coordinator for the Orange County Health Agency, which canceled 100 clinics.

"We were able to go back and fulfill our commitments," Wright said. Fortunately, there seems to be no sign that the flu season has arrived any earlier than usual, with some of the largest school districts and hospitals failing to see evidence of an outbreak.

"We're not seeing anything atypical," said Dennis Roberson, executive director of special education compliance and health services for the 45,000-student Capistrano Unified School District.

"I haven't gotten the sense that we've been overwhelmed in our emergency room yet," said Kim Pine, spokeswoman for the UC Irvine Medical Center. "I don't think we'll see that until December and January. That's when it starts picking up."

Meanwhile, state health officials have not taken any formal steps to prevent the same snafus next year, Arceo said, because they cannot regulate how the vaccine is distributed.

"It's really not in our hands," she said, suggesting that it is up to lawmakers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change the distribution system.

"Next year, I don't know how it's going to work out. But it's all done this year," Arceo said. "We just hope we don't have to go through this again."

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