VNA down 3,800 flu shots

Private medical clinics in Yampa Valley plan vaccination clinics

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The Visiting Nurse Association in Routt and Moffat counties expects to receive only 200 of the 4,000 doses of flu vaccine it was counting on this year.

The VNA's Susan Bowler confirmed Wednesday that 3,800 doses her agency ordered were to come from Chiron, the company that had its license suspended this week by the British government.

Private medical clinics in the valley already have received thousands of doses of their own and are organizing special flu-shot clinics to help meet the demand.

There had been some hints that Chiron was having problems with a flu vaccine produced in its Liverpool facility, Bowler said, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently offered e-mail assurances that "everything would be OK."

Now, everything has changed, and Bowler's public health agency won't have the flu shots it needs to reach out to the residents of the two counties.

The British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has suspended Chiron's license to manufacture Fluvirin vaccine in its Liverpool facility for three months, preventing any release of the vaccine for the coming influenza season.

Chiron is one of just two manufacturers supplying the most common flu vaccine to the United States, so the national supply will be cut in half this season, to about 54 million doses.

The nation will be supplied by the second company, Aventis Pasteur. Of the 54 million doses, about 30 million have been shipped already, according to the CDC. About 1.1 million doses of a "live" flu vaccine, suitable for adults and administered nasally, also will be available this year.

Like health care professionals across the country, Bowler was taken by surprise Tuesday when she learned the flu vaccinations would not be forthcoming.

The VNA is conforming to CDC guidelines and urging healthy adults and older children to postpone their flu shots so high-risk infants and the elderly can get their vaccinations.

"I'm in a high-risk group (as a health care provider)," Bowler said. "I'm willing to forgo my shots. I'm middle-aged, but I'm healthy."

Bowler is the public health nurse manager for the VNA. She said the VNA expects to receive 200 doses from Colorado. Those doses are intended for infants from low-income families. But the VNA will not be able to follow through this flu season with its typical practice of visiting large employers in the two counties to vaccinate employees.

The VNA is not the only source of flu vaccine in the Yampa Valley.

Steamboat Medical Group, one of the largest private clinics in the valley, has 4,000 doses and plans to continue with its own outreach program to local businesses including TIC, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and a number of property management companies.

"We have already given quite a few high-risk patients their vaccinations, and we do encourage people who are at risk to come in soon," Nurse Supervisor Mary Dierdorff said.

Dierdorff added that no one seeking a flu shot will be turned away, high risk or not.

Steamboat Medical Group is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with reduced hours Saturday and Sunday.

Steamboat Medical Group will host special Wednesday flu-shot clinics from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and Oct. 20 and 27. Saturday clinics are from 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 16, 23, 30 and Nov. 6.

A flu-shot clinic will be held in Oak Creek from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Oak Creek Town Hall.

In Hayden, shots will be given from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday at Hayden Town Hall. Shots will cost $15 if paid for on the spot.

Dierdorff said she hopes families from Craig will take advantage of the Hayden clinic.

Erik Sharp, practice administrator for Yampa Valley Medical Associates said his office has 1,400 doses of flu vaccine and will emphasize provision of shots for people in the community who fit into one of the CDC's at-risk groups during clinics planned for Saturday, Tuesday and Oct. 14.

"We're really focusing on those priority groups, but we won't turn other people away," Sharp said. "We're encouraging people in the community to become familiarized with the Centers for Disease Controls' priorities in making their own decision on whether or not to come in."

Sharp said Yampa Valley Medical Associates will host a clinic after Oct. 25 to administer any remaining flu shots to non-high-risk populations, such as healthy adults.

"We believe that is a more appropriate date for healthy, non-high-risk people to get the vaccine," he said.

People need not be patients of one of the doctors at the clinic to get a shot there, but they are encouraged to call ahead, he said.

Bowler pointed out that, for people who fit into one of the high-risk groups, the availability of flu shots can be a life-or-death matter. She appealed to other peoples' sense of community in asking them to hold off on flu shots.

"If you are a healthy adult with none of the underlying health conditions (prioritized by the CDC), self-regulate yourself," Bowler urged.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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