As flu deaths continue, some pharmacies are low on vaccines

Carol Harkness gets a flu shot on Nov. 4, 2008 at Stanton School in Norwich. (Day file photo)
Carol Harkness gets a flu shot on Nov. 4, 2008 at Stanton School in Norwich. (Day file photo)

As health officials continue to urge Connecticut residents to get flu shots, some local pharmacies are running low on the vaccines.

But only some pharmacies have run out of flu shots, and the shots are still available at regional health departments and private providers, Department of Public Health officials said Monday.

"As far as we are aware, there are only spot shortages at pharmacies in Connecticut," said Elizabeth Conklin, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health.

Local pharmacists said demand for flu shots has been high with state health officials reporting more than 50 deaths attributed to the flu since August.

Some have run out of the shot, others have only the high-concentration dose meant for people age 65 and older, and some still had a healthy supply Monday.

"Pharmacies order their own flu doses directly from the manufacturer or a third party vendor based on their anticipated need for the flu season," Conklin said in a an email. "Seeing that it is already the first week of February, it is not surprising for any provider to be whittling down their inventory/supply of flu doses. Even though it is recommended for providers to continue vaccinating throughout the entire course of flu season, the bulk of vaccine is usually administered between September and January."

An employee at the Walgreens pharmacy on Bank Street in New London said the phramacy still had a supply of flu vaccines, while CVS pharmacies in New London and Waterford said they had sold out.

Sue Dubb, a public health nurse with Uncas Health District, said people have been reporting pharmacies and doctors' offices running out of the vaccines.

Uncas Health will hold another flu shot clinic Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Otis Library.

"Local public health is always the backup," she said. "We know this happens every year."

Flu shots are also available by appointment at Uncas Health, which serves as the health department for nine towns including Montville, Norwich and Salem, and the New London office of Ledge Light Health District, which serves East Lyme, Groton, Ledyard, New London, North Stonington, Old Lyme, Stonington and Waterford.

The flu vaccine available this year protects against four types of flu. The vaccine has been shown to have low effectiveness against one of the more common strains, Conklin said, but the vaccine can prevent hospitalization and severe illness from flu infection and protect against the other strains circulating later in the flu season.

Department of Public Health data shows that nearly 3,000 people had tested positive for the flu in Connecticut as of Jan. 27, 160 of them in New London County.

And local health officials said it's still not too late to protect yourself or people vulnerable to severe flu symptoms, like children or the elderly.

"We haven't even reached the peak of the season," said Ledge Light Health District Communicable Disease Prevention supervisor Kris Magnussen.

 "If you've ever had the flu, you don't ever want it again," she said.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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