Thursday, October 28, 2004

Panel urges giving leftover flu vaccine to health workers

By Matt Leingang
Enquirer staff writer

Any remaining flu vaccine should be reserved for doctors and nurses who have direct contact with patients in hospitals and nursing homes, a regional advisory group recommended Wednesday.

Immunizing these health care workers will reduce their risk of getting the flu and spreading the illness to vulnerable patients.

The recommendation was made by 25 members of the Greater Cincinnati Flu Collaborative, a long-standing organization of public health officials that coordinates vaccination campaigns each year.

Other people who still need the shot, including young children and seniors over 64, are encouraged to seek out what's left at local pharmacies and doctors' offices.

Healthy people are being asked to forgo the shot in the wake of this year's vaccine shortage.

As much as 90 percent of the flu vaccine is purchased and distributed by the private sector, making it hard for local governments to gauge what is in the Tristate.

The Flu Collaborative is appealing to organizations and companies that have remaining doses to contact the group by Nov. 19. Payment for leftover doses can be arranged. The number to call is (513) 946-7808.

Cincinnati Shriners Hospital is already pledging 40 doses left over from an original purchase of 200.

But Good Samaritan and Bethesda North hospitals, which don't have any vaccine, need about 1,500 doses to vaccinate their health care workers directly involved in patient care.

"I'm optimistic that we'll find what we need," Dr. Stephen Blatt, medical director for infectious diseases control at TriHealth, which owns both hospitals.

In a normal year, TriHealth begins vaccinating its workers in early October.

"So we're about a month behind schedule, but we still have plenty of time," Blatt said.

Flu season, which can start in November, typically doesn't peak until January.

FluMist not catching on

The public isn't embracing FluMist, the nasal spray that can be used as an alternative to the flu shot.

Kroger has 7,000 doses -- about 70 per store -- in Dayton-Cincinnati, and they're not selling well, according to Mike Puccini, district pharmaceutical manager.

One reason is cost. FluMist, which has a retail price of around $25, isn't covered by private health insurance plans.

The other reason is skepticism or anxiety. Some members of the public incorrectly think that they will get sick from FluMist because it contains weakened live influenza viruses, Puccini said.

FluMist is approved for use in healthy people age 5-49. Public health officials are encouraging its use as they deal with the national flu vaccine shortage.

E-mail mleingang@enquirer .com

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