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St. Lawrence County faces flu vaccine shortages


POTSDAM - Flu vaccines are still available in St. Lawrence County, but an increase in demand has left some providers in short supply.

“They’ve been coming in hard and fast all week,” said Nicholas S. Mills, a pharmacist for Walgreen’s Pharmacy in Potsdam.

So far the company has not had trouble stocking up on vaccines, but other providers have not had it easy.

Kinney Drugs has still been able to order more doses of the vaccine, but supplies are becoming increasingly tight, said Michael Duteau, vice president of pharmacy operations for the chain.

“We are still continuing to receive sporadic shipments of vaccinations. The vaccine supply that we have in stock is being redistributed among our pharmacies to better meet our customers’ needs,” he said via email.

Mr. Duteau suggested customers call their pharmacies to schedule a shot and ensure the availability of the vaccine.

Canton-Potsdam Hospital has only 70 doses of the traditional long-needle flu vaccine, which must be shared between its various clinics. It still has about 400 doses of an intradermal vaccine. This is intended for patients who are afraid of long needles, but it can also cause discomfort.

An additional 500 doses are being prepared for the hospital by its supplier because of the emergency. These should arrive by Jan. 28.

It is difficult for the hospital to acquire additional vaccines because they have to pre-order each season’s doses in January, months before the season typically starts. CPH had 3,000 doses at the start of the season, more than previous years.

Supplies on the vaccine are tight nationwide due to reports of a flu season that started earlier than normal and has been more severe than most. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a statewide health emergency on Saturday.

“I think people who normally wouldn’t get a flu shot are now more concerned,” said CPH spokesperson Rebecca J. Faber.

Mr. Mills says he has seen many more college students than normal coming to Walgreen’s for vaccinations. Normally they wouldn’t bother, he said, but the severe flu season has prompted them to get the shot.

Primary care physicians working in hospital clinics will continue to administer vaccines by appointment for as long as supplies last, Ms. Faber said.

Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center faces a similar challenge. The hospital ordered more than 3,000 doses of the vaccine in January 2012, and now have fewer than 400.

“I was looking OK, looking like I’d last through April, but with this current situation we have a lot of people going through the clinics looking for flu vaccines, so I may run out sooner than I’d hoped to,” said Director of Pharmacy Gregory G. Guimond.

The shots are available by appointment at Claxton-Hepburn’s clinics, and offered to all outgoing hospital patients.

It is unlikely the hospital will be able to obtain more vaccine before the end of the season.

“There is none for me to purchase right now,” Mr. Guimond said.

Massena Memorial Hospital, on the other hand, has enough doses at all of its clinics to see it through the season, according to Zachary K. Chapman, senior director of Practice Management.

“We have an adequate supply. I don’t see us running out,” he said.

Mr. Chapman said the hospital has seen an increase in the number of patients looking for the shot, especially parents who want to vaccinate their children.

The St. Lawrence County Public Health Department is also offering vaccinations by appointment.

“We will continue to do that until we run out,” said department Director Susan J. Hathaway.

The department is down to 175 doses, having started the season with over 700.

Like the hospitals, the health department must order their vaccines months before the season starts. They typically base this amount on the number of cases in the prior year, but 2011-2012’s flu season was unusually mild.

The department has contacted the state for assistance, but getting more doses before the end of the season seems unlikely.

“Our chances of getting more at this point are pretty impossible,” Ms. Hathaway said.

To schedule an appointment with the health department, call 386-2325.

Whether or not they are vaccinated, the best way for people to stay healthy is still eating right, getting plenty of rest, and regularly washing their hands, according to Ms. Faber.

“As low-tech as it sounds, it’s really a very good way to prevent the spread of flu,” she said.

In general, it is wise to get a flu shot early, before the season starts and supplies become scarce.

“In the future, get your shot early in the season. That way we won’t have these larger outbreaks that creates these shortages, Mr. Guimond said.

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