Flu vaccines still scarce in county

Influenza vaccine supplies that should have been received six weeks ago by the Mohave County Department of Health and Social Services are still not available to the general populace and it is uncertain when people will be able to get shots, said Christy Bronston, nursing services manager with the department.

The strain of viruses for developing the vaccines for A and B type flu shots did not grow out properly, accounting for the delay in shipment of vaccine supplies from pharmaceutical companies, Bronston said.

The health department normally has flu vaccines by early October and has already held clinics in the community to give vaccinations.

Bronston said the department hoped to receive 16 percent of its order, a total of 816 doses, by mid-October, but no vaccine had arrived as of Tuesday.

"The vaccine we order is a split-cell type, meaning it can be given to adults or children," Bronston said.

"A few physicians may have some of the adult-only vaccine, though even that will be few and far between.

"People needing flu shots should call their primary care physician to see if he has the vaccine.

We recommend adults get the vaccine anywhere they can now."

However, employees of some companies and government agencies have received or are in the process of getting flu vaccinations.

Those companies and agencies have wellness contracts with the Occupational Health Services Department at Kingman Regional Medical Center, according to Candy Huerta, director of the department.

"We ordered our vaccine for the program a year in advance and got all we ordered," Huerta said.

"We've had our supplies since the first of October and have vaccinated employees with the city of Kingman, North Star Steel, American Woodmark and are now doing Citizens Utilities workers."

Huerta said the vendor supplying the flu vaccine is Azentis Pasteur, Inc.

of Swiftwater, Pa.

About 160 employees with the city of Kingman received flu shots Oct.

17, said Royce Williams, human resources risk management director.

The city pays for those vaccinations and employees have the option of getting or not getting the vaccinations, he said.

The Occupational Health Services Department does not bill insurance companies, so its supplies of vaccines is not available to the general public at this time, Huerta said.

The office of Dr.

Paul Kalanithi will be doing adult-only vaccinations once flu vaccine is received there, according to Liz Gordon, medical records clerk.

She said the vaccine is due in "any time."

Kingman pharmacist Paul Lewis said the federal government and vaccine manufacturers decide which strains of flu are likely to be most prominent based on information gathered during January, February and March of each year.

"Manufacturers generally release the vaccine in July or August so people can be immunized before the flu season starts," Lewis said.

But errors in preparing the vaccine strain may occur or the virus may mutate so that a batch of vaccine produced will not be effective, causing the federal government to not allow release of what it considers an ineffective vaccine, Lewis said.

One of those two scenarios is the likely reason for the delay in flu vaccine shipments this fall, he said.

"The federal government has the final say on release of flu vaccines," Lewis said.

"One manufacturer may have a million vials ready but can't release it until it gets the OK from the federal government.

"The federal government prefers not to allow release by one manufacturer of the vaccine until all manufacturers are ready.

That way nobody gets a competitive edge."

Lewis said the latest word he heard is that vaccines will not be out until mid-November.

Symptoms of the flu include headaches, fever, muscle aches, coughing, wheezing, runny nose and sore throat, Bronston said.

Anyone with such symptoms should see their family doctor immediately, she said.

"There are some anti-viral medicines which can help that can be given by prescription," Bronston said.

Those most susceptible to the flu include people over age 65, anyone with chronic respiratory problems such as emphysema and asthma, people with weakened immune systems, and women in the third trimester of pregnancy, Bronston said.

Bronston said the flu virus is less likely to be transmitted by people who cover their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, and by washing their hands after blowing their nose or using the bathroom.