With a limited flu shot supply, focus is to vaccinate high-risk populations

With a limited flu shot supply, focus is to vaccinate high-risk populations

Plaquemines Parish doesn't have enough flu vaccines for everybody right now, and they're not the only location with a limited supply. Statewide, public health departments focus on vaccinating the most high-risk patients, such as the elderly and children younger than 5.

"We don't have the same resources that a major pharmacy has, so we really want to prioritize the individuals that receive their flu vaccine at the health department for those at the highest risk, and then any remaining vaccines will then be available for the general public," said DHH Region One Medical Director Dr. Takeisha Davis.

Pharmacies like Majoria Drugs on Metairie Avenue always look ahead to the future availability of flu shots.

"As long as we're open, we're giving the flu shots - every day of the week," said Dr. Al Spitale, pharmacist in charge at Majoria. "I checked the availability with our wholesaler. We actually have four times more on hand than our wholesaler has."

That stockpile can be important to protecting against any manufacturer delays or shortages.

"The later you get into the season, the less willing the manufacturers are to produce the product because they're not going to sell it," Spitale said. "So, it's a very good chance that what's there - some more will trickle in, but the large percentage of it has already come and gone."

DHH said public health departments don't stockpile the way private pharmacies do, which is why a flu shot production delay can hit public departments first. On Friday (Oct. 24), Plaquemines Parish sent out a notice advising citizens to call ahead before going to the health department, because the flu vaccine is not currently available for everyone.

Usually, the parish health departments offer flu shots on a sliding pay scale to anyone with Medicaid or to those who are uninsured or under insured. According to the State Department of Health and Hospitals, it's always important to vaccinate high-risk populations first.

"These are individuals that we have seen, unfortunately, get the flu more severely, and we often see individuals unfortunately succumb to the flu," said Davis.

Flu shots cost $30 at Majoria Drugs. However, Spitale said, it's often not the money that keeps people from getting the shot. Instead, he said, it's the rumor that the shot can give you the flu.

According to DHH, 30,000 to 50,000 people die from the flu every year in the U.S., and Spitale begs everyone to keep this message in mind: "It's a dead virus," he said. "No one gets sick from the flu shot. If you get sick after getting the flu shot, you were getting sick already."

The CDC said overall flu activity remained low across the U.S. as of October 24, 2014. However, they expect flu activity to increase in the coming weeks. Also, the CDC said it takes about two weeks for the flu shot to begin working, which is why doctors recommend getting the vaccine as early in the season as possible.

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