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County Flu Vaccine Supply Nearly Depleted

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Diego County’s supply of flu vaccine is expected to run out before year’s end, county health officials said Monday.

Although the amount of vaccine stocked this year is 17% higher than last year’s 48,460 doses, county-supplied clinics are expected to run out in less than two weeks, said Dr. Donald G. Ramras of the San Diego County Health Services Department.

The demand that has drained the county’s supply may reflect a shift toward disease prevention, Ramras said.

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Last winter, San Diego experienced its first shortage of vaccine to guard against infection by the influenza virus.

Statewide, health officials have been anticipating record-breaking demand for this year’s influenza vaccine. The state health department, which supplies county health programs with the vaccine, ordered 780,000 doses this season--90,000 more than last year. San Diego County got 8,090 additional doses.

Occasionally, influenza results in death, especially in the elderly and people of all ages with chronic health disabilities, Ramras said. The virus also weakens the body’s defense system, making it susceptible to other illness, including pneumonia, Ramras said.

In San Diego, the flu season has yet to hit, Ramras said. Based on the flu’s pattern of rapid spread and reports of outbreaks in other states, Southern California may be due for a rash of flu cases in two to four weeks. Once the season hits, it normally lasts about six weeks, Ramras said.

“If you want to be immunized, you better do it now, because we’re probably going to be hit pretty hard in a couple of weeks,” Ramras said.

The Health Services Department has requested an additional 2,000 vaccine doses to last through the season.

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If other counties in California have a surplus of the vaccine, the state may redirect those supplies to San Diego, Ramras said. If not, people will have to go to private physicians or go without.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers generally produce vaccine in the fall, at the beginning of the vaccination period, Ramras said. If depleted before year’s end, the supplies are generally not replenished, he said.

Because genetic characteristics of the virus change from year to year, a new flu vaccine must be developed each fall before flu season strikes, Ramras said.

Most flu-vaccine clinics take place during October and November. Health officials advise people to be vaccinated by early December because it takes two weeks for flu antibodies to develop as a result of vaccination.

So far, only Santa Clara County has announced that it has run out of flu vaccine, according to John Dunajski, assistant chief of the state immunization program. Although counties can purchase vaccine above their state allotment, most do not, Dunajski said.

State guidelines mandate that county clinics provide the vaccine free or charge a minimal fee to cover administrative costs--about $2 a dose, Ramras said.

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The guidelines also require that the vaccine be made available only to people who are at high risk of contracting influenza, including anyone 55 years and older. People 6 months and older are considered high-risk if they suffer from a “severe health condition,” Ramras said. Asthma sufferers, heart attack survivors and those tested positive for HIV, for example, would qualify for public vaccination.

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