Health & Fitness

Flu shot supply meets demand

OLYMPIA - A steady stream of adults bared arms to receive shots Sunday at Ralph's Thriftway as the store offered a seasonal and H1N1 influenza vaccine clinic.

Most asked for an H1N1 vaccination, which was developed last year in response to an outbreak of an influenza virus that is new to humans.

Unlike seasonal flu, which is similar to past outbreaks of influenza, H1N1 has not given people the time to built up immunity, which makes it more easily caught than seasonal flu. The two illnesses have similar symptoms; both can lead to health complications and death.

Ralph’s flu shot clinic brought in 102 people Sunday, organizers said, and many said they came in response to the messages spread by doctors and health officials encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.

“I think that the H1N1 problem is filler on a slow news day,” said Bob Narby, who originally thought he would avoid getting the vaccine. “But my pulmonologist said it’s a good idea. And my wife told me to.”

For Patti Medina and her mother, Angie Higgins of Olympia, a relative’s death in Spokane over the holidays drove home the potential danger of influenza.

“They haven’t ruled out H1N1,” Medina said. “It was a shock. They called us on Dec. 18 to say she was in the ICU.”

For the first few weeks of the H1N1 vaccine’s availability, the limited supply was restricted to children, teens and young adults, who were most likely to catch H1N1; health workers; and pregnant women, who were in danger of serious complications from catching it.

But now, with the start of National Influenza Vaccination Week, national health officials say they will encourage the elderly and adults with chronic conditions such as obesity, emphysema and diabetes to get the vaccine.

“They have a higher risk of being hospitalized, and they are less likely to be vaccinated than children,” said Anne Schuchat, assistant U.S. surgeon general and the director of the immunization center at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We think it’s the time now for seniors who have stepped aside so children and younger people can be vaccinated.”

In most places nationwide, the restrictions on who can get the vaccine have been lifted.

Schuchat worried that a drop in the number of flu cases in recent weeks could lead people to conclude that flu season is over. She said H1N1 still is spreading, and there have been no outbreaks of seasonal influenza yet.

“I would hate for people to make a decision thinking that there is no risk and then get sick or severely ill,” Schuchat said. “I think complacency is probably our top enemy.”

Schuchat said that the illnesses often come in waves, and it is impossible to predict whether H1N1 will bounce back from the drop. The seasonal flu season also generally starts in January.

At Ralph’s, registered nurse Lynne Hummel, who administered the flu shots for GetAFlu, said that demand in South Sound still appears to be high, although there now is ample supply.

“We did the Department of Health yesterday and we did 350 vaccinations, and we’re going back this week,” she said.

Venice Buhain: 360-754-5445