First, the good news. Payson Regional Medical Center has finally received its long-delayed shipment of flu vaccine, and a flu vaccination clinic will be held in Payson Saturday morning.
Now, the bad news. The 300 doses which arrived represent about one-half of PRMC's order, and are reserved for those people and patients who are at greatest risk for serious flu side effects those over 65 years of age, and those with certain medical conditions.
And even with that limitation, said PRMC Assistant CEO Missy Spencer, "I'm going to bet you that we have it filled before your article comes out."
Now, more good news. The rest of the hospital's expected vaccine shipment should arrive within the month, and more is likely to follow in the not-too-distant future.
The best news of all: Despite the national shortage of flu vaccines, the fact that the months of December and January are at the very heart of flu season, and predictions that this would be among the worst flu seasons ever, physicians at PRMC have "not seen a single case of flu," Spencer said. "Not yet, anyway. We've seen upper respiratory conditions and things like that. But we've had no diagnoses of the flu."
PRMC's flu vaccination clinic will be held this Saturday, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Senior Circle, 215 N. Beeline Highway in Payson. For reservations, call 468-1012.
Although the reservation limit had nearly been met by press time, Spencer said, "It's good to talk about it, because we'll have another (vaccination clinic) when we get more vaccine. We've heard that we're going to be continuing to get (vaccine) through December, and I've even heard that new orders are now being accepted."
That may mean that a national crisis is nearing its end.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials, the vaccine is not only becoming more available, but an additional 50 million doses will be shipped by the end of December.
Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration predict that the same number of doses will be distributed as last year, possibly more. The vaccine will simply be available in stages this year instead of all at once.
CDC has contracted for the production of 9 million doses of influenza vaccine for the 2000-01 season. This additional production ensures that about the same quantity of influenza vaccine is available for the 2000-01 season as the previous year.
The 9 million doses are not intended to substitute for vaccine that is already ordered and expected to be delivered.
For the 1999-2000 flu season, about 77 million doses of influenza vaccine were distributed in the U.S., of which 3 million were returned to the manufacturers. For the 2000-2001 season, distribution of approximately 75 million doses is anticipated, including the 9 million doses contracted by CDC.
Delivery of vaccine is anticipated to begin Dec. 12, 2000, and end by early January 2001.
Gila County's flu shot clinics
The Gila County Health Department will offer flu shots at $10 each for all residents. The clinics will be held Dec. 12 at the Health Department, 107 West Frontier, Suite A in Payson. Shots will be given from 8 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 3 p.m.
Other clinics will be held Dec. 21, from 8 to 11 a.m. at the Tonto Basin School, and from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Roosevelt Estates Community Center.
Flu vaccines will be available, free of charge, for children with chronic disease.
Routine immunization campaigns will take place as more vaccine becomes available, CDC representatives have promised.
An ounce of prevention
Flu season usually hits the United States between December and March. Receiving flu vaccine almost any time before it has hit your area is beneficial, health experts agree, because immunity begins to develop within one to two weeks.
Influenza is highly contagious and can cause serious complications like pneumonia, which can be deadly. The flu can be especially dangerous for those "high risk" patients 65 and older or those who have long-term health problems such as diabetes, heart problems or lung disease. During a typical flu season, 110,000 people are hospitalized with complications from the flu and nearly 20,000 die.
Even if its victims don't develop a serious complication, the flu can make them very sick and put them in bed for a week or more or worse.
"I urge everyone 50 and over and those with long-term health problems to take action for their health and get a flu shot," Surgeon General David Satcher has said. "Even though it is December, it's not too late to get a flu shot. You can still get protection."
Influenza, commonly called "the flu," is caused by the influenza virus, which infects the respiratory tract. The virus generally spreads from person-to-person when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Compared with other respiratory infections like the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and lead to serious, and life-threatening complications in all age groups.
Typical flu symptoms include fever, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue. Children may experience gastrointestinal problems like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea but such symptoms are not common in adults. Although the term "stomach flu" is sometimes used to describe gastrointestinal illnesses, this is caused by other organisms and is not related to "true" flu.
There are several common misconceptions about the flu including:
Myth: Flu is merely a nuisance. Flu is a major cause of illness and death in the U.S. and leads on average to approximately 20,000 deaths and 110,000 hospitalizations each year.
Myth: Flu vaccine causes the flu. The licensed flu vaccine used in the United States, which is made from inactivated or killed flu viruses, cannot cause infection and does not cause the flu.
Myth: Flu vaccine is not very effective. When the vaccine viruses and circulating viruses are well matched, vaccine can be very effective. However, flu vaccine only provides protection against influenza. People who have received flu vaccine may subsequently develop a respiratory illness that is due to another virus, but is mistaken for flu.
In addition, protection from the vaccine is not 100 percent. Studies of healthy young adults have shown flu vaccine to be 70 percent to 90 percent effective in preventing illness. In the elderly and those with certain chronic medical conditions, the vaccine is often less effective in preventing illness.
However, the vaccine is effective in reducing flu-related hospitalizations and deaths among older adults.