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Flu danger rises with shortage

Nevada County’s new health director foresees more deaths than normal from influenza this year due to California’s flu vaccine drought.

“I have nothing but bad news,” said Dr. Sheldon Minkin Thursday about the lack of vaccine. “We are not expecting anything, and nothing is available in the western end of the county.”

The vaccine drought started last week when half of the United States’ annual supply was not shipped. English inspectors halted the shipments after discovering much of this year’s vaccine from the Chiron Corp. was contaminated. The shipment included all of California’s designated supply.



“We have not received any vaccine as we speak,” said Norma Arceo of the California Department of Health Services. “We are expecting some, but we don’t know how much,” or where it would go.

Federal inspectors are currently in Britain trying to see if any of Chiron’s batch of vaccine can be salvaged. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said available vaccine from other countries does not meet federal requirements and probably could not be used.




Minkin said some nasal spray vaccine will be coming into Nevada County, but that batch will be reserved for health care workers so that they will not catch and spread the disease in hospitals, nursing homes and clinics. Even then, there probably will not be enough for those health care workers, Minkin said.

One potential bright spot is that this might not be a bad flu season, Minkin said. The southern hemisphere’s flu season earlier this year was milder than normal and that is usually a good sign for the northern hemisphere, where the disease arrives later.

State Public Health Officer Dr. Richard Jackson has ordered all health care providers in the state to give what vaccine they have to those who most need it. That includes people 65 and older, children from six to 23 months and anyone from 2 to 64 who has a chronic medical condition.

Minkin said there is little county residents can now do except follow the usual regimen to halt the spread of flu. That includes washing hands frequently, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, avoiding people who are coughing and staying home if you think you have the flu.

The county’s new health officer said the vaccine drought accents a larger problem.

“The drug industry is grossly profitable,” Minkin said. “They would rather put out products that people use on a daily basis for chronic conditions.”

Minkin said making flu vaccine is a costly and tenuous process and programs no longer exist where unused flu vaccine is returned to drug companies for credits. The federal government will now probably subsidize manufacturers to produce flu vaccine with new technologies, he said.

“But that’s too late for this year,” Minkin said. “There will be more deaths than normal.”

Flu info on the Net

– Nevada County Community Health Departmentnew.mynevadacounty.com/commhlth

– California Department of Health Serviceswww.dhs.ca.gov

– U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventionwww.cdc.gov


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