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    Friday, November 05, 2004

    Flu Vaccine Round-Up: Although the CDC has been telling us for the past month that they are helping to distribute the flu vaccine to those who need it most, providers everywhere remain left in the lurch. New Mexico and Illinois want to buy flu vaccine from abroad, even though it's technically not FDA-approved. Two counties in Ohio are completely out of vaccine and according to public health officials, they aren't expecting to get more. Even the state health department is in the dark:

    The state health department said it ordered 55,000 doses of the flu vaccine, but it does not know when they will arrive or who will get them.

    Wouldn't you think that the state health department, of all places, would have some info from the CDC? Meanwhile, the vaccine is being sent to clinics in Georgia, home of the CDC. There has been a stunning lack of communication between the CDC and providers - including local public health departments - during this shortage. The whole process of aquiring vaccine during the shortage remains extremely opaque.

    I get weekly email updates from the CDC about the crisis, but not once have they mentioned who to call or how to sign up for flu vaccine shipments. They're just press releases about influenza surveillance and the "success" of their flu vaccine redistribution plan. Sorry, but from the ground, it looks like anything but a success.

    Other news provides hope that the lack of vaccine won't be such a big deal. There's some evidence that diluted vaccine may also work, although the studies were performed on the young and healthy, not the elderly and frail who need it the most, so don't get your hopes up.

    Better reason to hope is in the JAMA paper which followed elderly flu vaccine recipients over six flu seasons. Although they found that the flu vaccine certainly decreases mortality among the elderly, and especially among the sick elderly, it's somewhat reassuring how rare the flu-related deaths were. Of the 26,071 participants in the study, only 3.485 died during its course. Almost a third of those were from "natural causes" - the number one killer. (Included in that category was dementia, bed sores, and old age with no other obvious reason) Heart attacks and strokes came in second, cancer third. Infections - which are the most common complication of the flu - came in fifth, after "sudden death"(cardiac and unexplained.) Granted, the results may have been quite different if the vaccine had not been given at all, but the final conclusion is still reassuring that the flu is, in most years, not such a big deal. That conclusion? 302 people have to be vaccinated to prevent just one death from influenza. If the flu season is as mild this winter as it was in the southern hemisphere this past summer, people won't be dropping dead in great numbers.

    posted by Sydney on 11/05/2004 01:58:00 PM 0 comments


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