Vaccine Shortages Strike Flu Clinics

Health Officials Say Clinics Canceled as National Crisis Hits Home;
Common Sense Is Urged


Public health officials across the Vineyard confirmed this week that
all of the fall flu clinics have been canceled indefinitely while the
Island waits to see just how many vaccines it may or may not receive.

Officials said they are in constant contact with the state
Department of Public Health, and will announce vaccination updates as
soon as information is available.

"At this point all the public health clinics that had been
advertised have been canceled," said Joyce Capobianco, director of
the Visiting Nurse Service for Martha's Vineyard Community
Services, which was contracted to administer free flu clinics in five of
the six Island towns this fall. "Our phone is ringing off the hook
with people looking for information, and what we're trying to do
is calm them down. But because of the severity of the situation, with
only 22 million doses to go nationwide, we may not even see a

Last week British regulators closed a Chiron Corporation factory for
possible bacteria contamination, cutting off almost half the typical
vaccination supply of about 90 million doses for the United States.
Another major supplier, Aventis Pasteur, is working with the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to distribute 22.4 million
remaining doses through state health departments across the country to
high-priority groups such as infants, people over age 65, individuals
with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and health-care workers
who provide direct patient care.

Last year Island clinics administered roughly 2,500 flu shots,
though not all to high-priority individuals. Of the 1,327 vaccinations
administered by the Visiting Nurse Service, 604 went to people over the
age of 65.

As of yesterday, not one of the Vineyard clinics had received a
single vaccine, although a small number of Island doctors who had
preordered from unaffected suppliers did obtain some samples. Clinic
doctors and administrators say they are maintaining close contact with
the state health department, which is awaiting direction from the CDC as
to how to allocate the vaccines to the high-priority groups.

"We're in the same situation as everybody else. We all
need to be patient and have a little faith that our state health
department and CDC will find a solution," said Carol Forgione, an
acute care nurse practitioner for Vineyard Medical Services, the
Island's only walk-in clinic. "People need to realize that
yes we have a serious problem, and yes it's being addressed. But
we're recommending that people should not panic; as soon as we
learn something we will let you know. Meanwhile, we all need to protect
ourselves in any way that we can," Ms. Forgione said.

The state department of public health issued a notice Wednesday
prohibiting health care providers from administering flu vaccine to
anyone not in a high-priority category.

Vineyard health officials agreed that the most important thing
people can do is to aggressively wash their hands. Other common sense
precautions include covering mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing,
and staying at home and avoiding crowds, especially for people who feel

Mrs. Forgione noted that while it is almost certain that fewer
people will receive vaccinations this year, the delay to high-priority
groups on the Vineyard may not cause too much trouble, as the Island
typically sees its first diagnosis of the flu almost a month after the
mainland. Influenza season peaks between December and March in the rest
of the country.

Although everybody was told to get a flu shot in past years, the CDC
recommends that only those in the priority groups try to do so this
year. In addition to those mentioned above, the CDC identified the
following as high-priority:

* Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities

* Children six months to 18 years of age on chronic aspirin

* Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children
aged less than six months.