Healthy adults discouraged from getting flu shots

| Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Centers for Disease Control is recommending that most adults – and many children – skip getting a flu shot this year so those in higher risk groups will be more likely to have access to the vaccine.

Health officials announced earlier this week that the United States is facing a certain shortage of flu vaccine after Britain temporarily suspended a company’s license to produce the vaccine. The company, Chiron, was to make 46 million to 48 million of the 100 million doses of the vaccine U.S. that officials expected to have available.

In a notice on the Centers for Disease Control Web site, officials noted those groups who should be first in line to get the available vaccine. They include:

  • All children ages 6 months to 23 months;
  • Adults age 65 years and older;
  • People with chronic medical conditions;
  • Pregnant women;
  • Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities;
  • Health-care workers; and
  • People who have children who are less than 6 months old.

All others are being encouraged by the CDC to forego getting a shot to make more vaccine available for the higher risk groups.

Many truckers do not fall into one of the groups still recommended to get flu shots, so they should take extra precautions to avoid contracting the illness. And health experts say they face a particular challenge when trying to avoid the flu.

“Because they go into so many places – not just truck stops, you’re talking about into shippers and into receivers – they’re around a lot of people,” said nurse Sharon Mitchell. “They touch doorknobs, they use telephones – which are some of the biggest offenders (in the spread of viruses).”

Mitchell is a nurse and vice president of American Business Medical Services, a clinic inside Jessup TA Truck Stop near Baltimore. But many more truckers know her as Nurse Red, her screen name on the TruckNet forum.

Prevention is the key to fighting truckers’ heightened risk. Mitchell said truck drivers should use common sense precautions, such as avoiding people with obvious flu symptoms, and washing their hands frequently with anti-bacterial soaps or gels. She also recommended against using public phones, or sharing cell phones.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials are checking to see whether companies such as Aventis, another maker of flu shots, can make more vaccine for this year this late in the process.

Chiron did not say why its license was revoked, and U.S. officials indicated they were seeking more detailed information. Meanwhile, the company did hint at reasons in a statement.

According to a company news release, the British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency “asserted that Chiron’s manufacturing process does not comply with UK Good Manufacturing Practices regulations.”

“Our manufacturing and quality staff have worked hard to resolve what we viewed as a problem limited in scope to a few batches, and we believe our quality assurance confirmatory testing demonstrates that the Fluvirin doses we anticipate releasing are safe,” John Lamber, president of Chiron Vaccines, said in a statement.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. had planned to have 100 million doses of the flu vaccine available, with Chiron producing almost half of it. The agency anticipates that 56 million doses made by two other companies will still be available here.

Last year, 87 million people in the United States received flu shots.

“Our immediate focus will be on making sure that the supply we do have reaches those who are most vulnerable,” Health and Human Services officials said in a news release.

– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor
mark_reddig@landlinemag.com