Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
DALLAS - Despite concerns in some areas of the country about a shortage of the flu vaccine to battle this year's outbreak, area health officials said Monday they still have shots available - for now.
"We do not anticipate running out of the flu vaccine in the near future, and we anticipate we will meet any increase in demand for the shots," said Amanda Simpson, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department.
Simpson said the county has administered about 20,000 shots of the vaccines so far this year, far more than were given last year.
In Collin County, more than 100 residents a day are getting flu shots at the county health services clinic near downtown, county spokeswoman Leigh Hornsby said.
So far, the county has enough flu vaccine, but it's unclear how long the supply will last, Hornsby said.
"We will continue to provide flu vaccinations until we run out," she said. "We don't know when that's going to be. We're taking it one day at a time. We've been able to meet the demand so far. That could change at any point."
She said Collin County has gotten its vaccine from Aventis Pasteur, which said Friday that it had run out of vaccine and would not be able to meet a surge in demand nationwide. Another major vaccine supplier, Chiron, also said Friday that it has run out.
"The clinic has been inundated," Hornsby said. "The parking lot is filled with vehicles."
Health officials said that the flu outbreak in Collin County "widespread" but that the cases were not as severe as those in Dallas County.
Officials in Dallas County say they have reports of 1,000 cases of flu so far this year and are investigating two deaths. Officials at Children's Medical Center Dallas last week reported three deaths from flu complications.
Because flu is not considered by the state Health Department as a reportable disease, it is hard to accurately determine the number of cases and deaths.
Health officials say that though two manufacturers of the vaccine have run out of supplies, that does not mean that distributors or providers have run out. About 70 million to 75 million doses of the flu vaccine are usually given each year. The highest number of doses ever distributed was 80 million.
Simpson of the Dallas County health department said manufacturers made about 83 million doses this year.
Availability, she said, "depends on who has it on hand, how much they ordered and whether they can get more."
Simpson said that because of the severe and early season, people might need to be more persistent than normal in trying to find a flu vaccine provider.
Officials at Parkland Memorial Hospital said they had not been notified of any need to ration or restrict the shots.
Shirley Shores, director of infection control at Parkland, said the hospital has targeted its vaccine at health workers and obstetrics patients.
"By targeting employees, this helps protect high-risk patients who can't take the vaccine," Shores said.
Sylvia Trevino, infection control analyst at Parkland, said the hospital has about five times the usual number of flu cases this year.
She said the hospital usually doesn't see flu patients until after Thanksgiving. This year it had 15 cases in October, 225 in November and 25 so far this month.
Shores said another difference this year is that the hospital is seeing patients who are sicker and more likely to be admitted for treatment.
Texas Commissioner of Health Eduardo Sanchez has recommended that remaining vaccine supplies be reserved for the elderly, children 6 months through 23 months old, people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and asthma, and people with weakened immune systems.
"It could be that most of the people in the high-risk groups who wanted a flu shot have already gotten a flu shot, but we just don't know that. We're taking this step as a precaution," Sanchez said in a written statement.
Doug McBride, spokesman for the Texas Department of Health, said that last week was the eighth consecutive week that flu activity has been classified as "widespread" in Texas. Widespread is the highest category for flu activity.
Concerns about the severity of the flu season and about possible vaccine shortages have sent many people scurrying to find locations offering the shots.
The Medical Clinic of North Texas' Valley Ranch office was swamped with phone calls Monday from people seeking flu shots, a clinic employee said. Like many local doctors' offices, the clinic was only providing the vaccinations to patients already scheduled for them this week.
"Everyone's trying to get in now," said Kendra Collins, who works in the office. "We're even having our patients call and want it, and we're having to turn them away."
Staff writers Kim Horner and Ed Housewright contributed to this report.
(c) 2003, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.