Dr. Ronald F. Famiglietti: Understand flu

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It is well-known that we are in the midst of a shortage of flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified a target group of patients who are at high risk of having serious complications from contracting influenza. This includes people 65 and older; children ages 6 months to 23 months; anyone with chronic lung, heart, metabolic, kidney, blood, or immune disorders; pregnant women; residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; household members and caregivers of infants younger than 6 months; and health care workers who provide hands-on patient care.

For most of us, influenza is a nuisance. We have to take time off work, out of school, cancel recreational plans, etc. For the high-risk groups, the dangers of contracting influenza include pneumonia, hospitalization and death.

Last year, several children died in Colorado from influenza. Most had underlying medical conditions. Annually, the death rate in the elderly population increases during the winter, in part because of influenza. This is why, and it could not be clearer, we target these groups to immunize.

It is vital that the community and health care providers understand the significance of this year's vaccine shortage.

Nationwide, just the high-risk group mentioned above totals 98.2 million people. For the 2003-04 influenza season, 87.1 million doses of the vaccine were made, and we ran out. This year, about 54 million doses of injectable influenza vaccine and another 1 million to 2 million doses of nasal spray vaccine are available, nowhere close to the inadequate supply that we had last year. And last year, un-immunized children with medical problems died.

Several measures have been taken in the past few weeks to limit the consequences of this shortage. Dr. Ned Calonge, chief medical officer with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said "We are asking that those individuals who are not at high-risk for the flu to forgo receiving their flu shots so that we can make certain that the vaccine goes to those who truly need it most."

I have spent significant time explaining the immunization shortage and CDC guidelines to often-frustrated parents and patients in the past few weeks. The fact is, for every healthy person who gets a flu shot, someone in the high risk group will not be able to. The shot has to come from somewhere. For this year, consider the above guidelines and Dr. Calonge's challenge before asking for a flu shot. For next year, lobby your political leaders to make sure that this crisis does not occur again.

Dr. Ronald F. Famiglietti

Chief of Staff, Yampa Valley Medical Center

It is well-known that we are in the midst of a shortage of flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified a target group of patients who are at high risk of having serious complications from contracting influenza. This includes people 65 and older; children ages 6 months to 23 months; anyone with chronic lung, heart, metabolic, kidney, blood, or immune disorders; pregnant women; residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; household members and caregivers of infants younger than 6 months; and health care workers who provide hands-on patient care.

For most of us, influenza is a nuisance. We have to take time off work, out of school, cancel recreational plans, etc. For the high-risk groups, the dangers of contracting influenza include pneumonia, hospitalization and death.

Last year, several children died in Colorado from influenza. Most had underlying medical conditions. Annually, the death rate in the elderly population increases during the winter, in part because of influenza. This is why, and it could not be clearer, we target these groups to immunize.

It is vital that the community and health care providers understand the significance of this year's vaccine shortage.

Nationwide, just the high-risk group mentioned above totals 98.2 million people. For the 2003-04 influenza season, 87.1 million doses of the vaccine were made, and we ran out. This year, about 54 million doses of injectable influenza vaccine and another 1 million to 2 million doses of nasal spray vaccine are available, nowhere close to the inadequate supply that we had last year. And last year, un-immunized children with medical problems died.

Several measures have been taken in the past few weeks to limit the consequences of this shortage. Dr. Ned Calonge, chief medical officer with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said "We are asking that those individuals who are not at high-risk for the flu to forgo receiving their flu shots so that we can make certain that the vaccine goes to those who truly need it most."

I have spent significant time explaining the immunization shortage and CDC guidelines to often-frustrated parents and patients in the past few weeks. The fact is, for every healthy person who gets a flu shot, someone in the high risk group will not be able to. The shot has to come from somewhere. For this year, consider the above guidelines and Dr. Calonge's challenge before asking for a flu shot. For next year, lobby your political leaders to make sure that this crisis does not occur again.

Dr. Ronald F. Famiglietti

Chief of Staff, Yampa Valley Medical Center

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