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Be patient for flu vaccine, say state's top health officials

The top two health officials in Washington, Mary Selecky, secretary of health, and Dr. Maxine Hayes, state health officer, held a telephone conference with reporters across the state Tuesday afternoon to discuss the flu vaccination situation.

It was revealed within the last few weeks that the United States would be experiencing a flu vaccine shortage following troubles a manufacturing company, Chiron Corporation, in England had. The company lost its license to produce the flu vaccine.

Despite news that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is working with a new flu vaccine manufacturing company to help curb the shortage, health officials across the nation are urging healthy people to step aside to leave enough vaccine for children, the elderly and ill people.

The flu can be deadly, especially for older people. Each year, an average of 36,000 people, mainly between the ages of 65 and 70, die from flu-related illness. Hayes said most of the deaths are caused from pneumonia that senior citizens deal with during their bout with the flu. Another 200,000 people across the country are hospitalized yearly because of the flu.

Selecky said the state is trying to work with medical clinics to prioritize who they allow to have flu vaccination.

While the supplies are short, Hayes would like to have vaccines reserved for young children, senior citizens and the chronically ill.

Selecky said Washington does receive flu vaccines from the CDC to distribute to young children, primarily ages 6 to 23 months. Washington had put in an order of 200,000 doses to distribute to children, but with the shortfall only 46,180 vaccinations have been distributed as of Oct. 19.

Selecky said it is much more difficult to get a handle on the number of adults receiving flu vaccinations because many get their shots through a private medical service.

There has been some concern with Washington residents traveling to Canada to receive their flu vaccinations, said Hayes.

"Canada does believe it can help the United States during this shortage of flu vaccine," said Hayes.

Hayes said the Food and Drug Administration is working with Canada on the possibility of helping with the vaccine shortage. Hayes said, though, if the United States does turn to Canada it will have to ensure that the vaccine doses meet the highest standards.

"What I would urge is patience," said Hayes. "The (flu) season has barely started."

Hayes said she wants to remind residents that the peak period for being stricken with the flu bug is February and March.

Selecky also urges patience for residents who are concerned about receiving a flu vaccination. She said that manufacturers have the capability of generating three million doses of the flu vaccine a week, which would be distributed as soon as possibly.

Hayes also expressed optimism about the upcoming flu season.

"There is some evidence we might be looking at a mild season," said Hayes. "Every (flu) season has its own story. We can't predict year to year the impact."

Hayes also pointed out that the flu vaccine will still be effective if it is given in December or after the beginning of the year.

There have been some concerns voiced about healthy people being told not to get a flu shot, but Hayes said that is how it should be, considering the shortage.

State health officials have been busy coming up with other options for people to utilize to help fight the flu bug and practice basic good hygiene. Hayes said one way is for a person to wash their hands frequently to ward off germs. Hayes said there are also other basic good health tips, such as a person covering their mouth when they cough and staying home from work when they are sick.

Selecky also said there is a lot more information about the flu on the Washington Department of Health website, http://www.doh.wa.gov

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