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Flu clinics on again, off again

Korner Pharmacy employee Kimberly Malmin takes a look at one of a few remaining doses of flu vaccine at her business. South Whidbey pharmacies who were offering flu immunization clinics have had to call them off for the time being due to a shortage of the vaccine. - Matt Johnson
Korner Pharmacy employee Kimberly Malmin takes a look at one of a few remaining doses of flu vaccine at her business. South Whidbey pharmacies who were offering flu immunization clinics have had to call them off for the time being due to a shortage of the vaccine.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Shortages and supply problems associated with flu vaccine ordered by Whidbey Island pharmacies and the Island County Health Department made a schedule of immunization clinics during the last two weeks ephemeral at best.

Last week, two South Whidbey pharmacies had to cancel their clinics when they received word they would not receive more than 500 doses of vaccine they ordered months ago. At the same time, the Island County Health Department found itself drawing up new immunization clinic schedules two days in a row to take advantage of an early shipment of 1,400 doses.

With the flu season expected to start in the Puget Sound area sometime in January, the apparently unreliable supply of flu vaccine is a concern. It is probably too soon to start worrying, though, said Dr. Roger Case, Island County health officer. On Thursday he said anyone who gets immunized by the end of the year should have all the protection they need against the flu virus. The news about the arrival of the county’s vaccine shipment — which was earlier than expected — heartened him.

“We have had difficulty getting it,” Case said.

In spite of the shortages and unpredictable deliveries, the situation is better than in past years, at least according to Lind’s Pharmacy Manager Cathy Stallman. Her pharmacy received 500 of 600 doses ordered, and used the last of the vaccine at a clinic last Wednesday.

“Actually, this is better than usual,” she said.

Even so, she said she does not expect more vaccine shipments from the pharmacy’s supplier, the Henry Shein Co., which means Linds will not hold any more immunization clinics this year.

Also out of the immunization game is Korner Pharmacy in Clinton. Pharmacist and business owner Terry Thomas said Shein delivered 500 doses to him earlier this fall, all of which was used during three weeks of immunization clinics in October. In all, Thomas ordered 900 doses, but he said he does not know when or if they will show up.

Thomas said this situation is not unexpected. The flu vaccine is difficult to manufacture, largely because it must be re-formulated every year to counter new and stronger strains of the influenza virus. Between developing the new vaccine and shipping it, it must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and manufactured in huge quantities, he said.

Starting Tuesday, Island County will hold a series of five immunization clinics around Whidbey Island. The county had to cancel clinics on Nov. 14 and 16 and adjust the schedules of others earlier in the season. More clinics will probably be scheduled in late December or early January, when a shipment of about 1,600 doses of the flu vaccine are expected to arrive.

Immunizations through the county program — which is also sponsored by Whidbey General Hospital — are $12 each. The cost can be covered by Medicare.

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