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Health Chief Says Flu Vaccine to Reach Seniors

October 19, 2004|From Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said Monday that enough flu vaccine would be available for most people who needed it and senior citizens should stop standing in long lines to get a shot.

"We want people to relax," Thompson said at a news conference. "The flu season is not here."

Seniors around the country have been standing in lines at shopping plazas to get flu shots since news of a shortage surfaced this month. British regulators shut down shipments from Chiron Corp., which had made millions of flu shots earmarked for the U.S. market. The shutdown cut the U.S. supply of flu shots almost in half.

Thompson said the flu vaccine supply would be reallocated to parts of the country where it was needed most. Seniors and very young children are most at risk for severe complications from the flu.

"We are looking all over the regions to find out where there is a shortage, and we will redeploy the resources to make sure the seniors get the vaccine first," he said. He noted that 91% of flu deaths last year were people 65 or older.

Thompson advised people to first seek the shot from their doctor or a clinic. If that fails, they should contact the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the center, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that 20 million doses would soon be available for seniors.

"We are reassuring people that vaccine is on the way," she said.

Last week, however, Gerberding had said it was unlikely all high-risk people who wanted a flu shot would be able find one.

In Atlanta on Monday, Dr. Mitchell Cohen, director of the CDC's coordinating center for infectious diseases, said the current vaccine would be "distributed over a six- to seven-week period, so we have some opportunity to identify those areas" that need supplies "over the next week or so."

He said his staff was continuing to compile supply reports from each state but declined to name places that were low on flu shots.

El Paso reported late last week it ran out of vaccine; the township of Bloomfield, N.J., created a lottery to distribute 300 remaining shots.

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