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Could Be Long Wait for Flu Shot

Ventura County starts a list for those at high risk for complications, but health officials say they don't know when more vaccine will be available.

November 09, 2004|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Want a flu shot? Take a number, Ventura County public health officials say.

The Public Health Department started a flu-shot waiting list last week in anticipation of getting more vaccine in the weeks ahead, said spokeswoman Sandy Marcotte.

If vaccine becomes available, the low-cost shots would be restricted to adults 65 and older, children 6 to 23 months and anyone with a chronic illness, Marcotte said.

Those people are deemed at highest risk for flu complications and have highest priority to receive the scarce vaccine this year, she said.

Qualifying residents can get their names on the list by calling a flu hotline at 981-5080, or 981-5096 for Spanish speakers. If supplies become available, the residents will be notified, Marcotte said.

County public health clinics last week vaccinated about 6,000 people falling into the high-risk categories, she said. The vaccine was among 271,000 doses distributed to counties by the state Department of Health Services late last month, Marcotte said.

With that supply exhausted, all the county can do now is wait for another batch, she said. And demand is high.

"We've had nothing but phone calls asking when more flu shots will be available," Marcotte said Friday. "I had 100 calls this morning. The waiting list gives them something to hold on to. We want to give them hope."

Robert Miller, a spokesman for the state Department of Health Services, said any additional vials of vaccine will be quickly distributed to counties. But no one is sure when new doses will become available.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, responsible for distributing the vaccine, has notified states that it hopes to have 2.6 million more doses by January, Miller said.

"Between now and then, we hope to get some more -- but we don't have anything definitive at this point," he said.

In the meantime, the state is advising common-sense precautions to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses, including covering the mouth when sneezing, washing hands frequently and eating a healthy diet.

Thousands of Ventura County seniors lined up for shots at public clinics held last week, braving wind, heat and long lines. Still, there were not enough doses to vaccinate everyone who requested a shot and met the strict criteria, Marcotte said.

Ann Casey, administrator of Mound Guest Home in Ventura, said she was fortunate to find flu vaccinations through private providers for about 30 of her elderly residents. She considered putting half a dozen additional residents into a van for last week's public clinics but decided against it.

The 50 residents of her home, ranging in age from 80 to 103, have Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and getting them to stand in line for hours would have been difficult, Casey said.

Instead, she put their names on the waiting list, and the county has promised to vaccinate the nursing home residents by appointment when additional doses are received, Casey said.

"It took many, many phone calls, but it's critical that they get the shots," she said.

The nation's vaccine supply was cut in half last month when contamination in the factory of one supplier forced its closure. Federal, state and local authorities have been scrambling since then to assure that the remaining supply is given out on a priority basis.

Ventura County health officials are trying to make sure the vaccine is going to those at highest risk, but Marcotte said it's difficult to detect if people are trying to pass themselves off as high risk in order to get a shot.

"It's essentially by the honor system," she said. "We're just appealing to people's better natures. There will always be people who are self-serving, but for the most part, people are honest."

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