UI copes with shot shortage

By Caroline Kim

Vaccination is the best way to prevent getting the flu, yet the University’s McKinley Health Center does not have any vaccines available for this year’s flu season, said McKinley’s Medical Director Dr. David Lawrance.

On average, 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications and approximately 36,000 people die from the flu each year within the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control.

With the shortage of vaccines, the CDC reported that only about 55 million flu shots will be available in the United States this season.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, extreme fatigue and nausea. According to the CDC, the flu can cause bacterial pneumonia and dehydration or worsen chronic medical conditions like congestive heart failure, asthma and diabetes. In some cases, the flu can lead to death.

Dr. Thomas Sutter, head of the division of occupational medicine at Champaign’s Carle Hospital, said the hospitals and clinics under Carle Enterprise have already administered 10,000 of the 27,000 vaccines they received from Aventis, this year’s sole supplier of vaccines in the United States.

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Lawrance said the University community has not experienced severe flu seasons for the past two years, but he thinks this year may be worse because of the vaccine shortage.

“The most important message here is that unless the national vaccine situation changes, most college students should not get a flu shot this year, not at McKinley, not at their local hospital,” Lawrance said in an e-mail.

He explained that for every shot a healthy adult or child receives, an at-risk person who could die from the flu will not be able to receive the vaccination. Lawrance said most college students do not fall into the at-risk category.

Provena Covenant Medical Center and Carle Enterprise have a limited supply that will be distributed to at-risk individuals on the CDC’s list of priority groups.

The priority groups consist of children from six to 23 months of age, children on chronic aspirin therapy, senior citizens, people with chronic illnesses, pregnant women, caregivers, health-care workers in direct patient care, nursing home residents and those in long-term care facilities.

“A very important part of what we will be trying to do (to prevent a worse flu season) is to encourage everyone to use hand-washing and respiratory etiquette,” Lawrance said.

He said this means frequent washing of hands with soap or an alcohol-based hand-rub and covering coughs with a tissue and disposing of them. Lawrance said that these methods were used to control the SARS epidemic and that the strategy also should work with the flu in the United States.

He also suggested doing immune-enhancing activities such as maintaining stress levels, sleeping well and exercising.

Besides those methods, the CDC recommends other ways for people to prevent the flu, including avoiding close contact with sick people, staying at home when sick and not touching their eyes, noses or mouths. While the CDC guidelines are always important, Sutter said they are especially crucial with this year’s vaccine shortage.

In addition to taking prescription antiviral drugs if a person comes down with the flu, Lawrance suggested drinking plenty of fluids, eating as much as possible and taking Tylenol or other medicine to relieve the symptoms.

Danny Kalemba, sophomore in ACES, has never received a flu vaccination and said he is not that concerned with the shortage.

“I’ve never really needed it,” Kalemba said. “I usually don’t get sick. I think that I’ll be OK, but I’m sure that more people will get sick.”

If students do get sick, the Office of the Dean of Students can assist them if they will be absent for extended periods of time.

“People seem to be surprisingly understanding about the situation,” Lawrance said. “It wasn’t of our making. All U.S. health care providers and their patients are in the same boat.”

Sutter said the shortage is a setback for the public health system, which has been trying to educate people on being vaccinated for the last five years, because now these vaccines are unavailable. Lawrance said he hopes there will be two or three makers of vaccines and a greater quantity of them next year.

“Hopefully, the FDA will license over the next few years a new generation of flu vaccines that don’t require a new shot every year,” Lawrance said in an e-mail. “I think that (the) health care industry and regulators will learn a lot from what happened this year.”