Although flu activity is still comparatively low in California and Mono County, new information shows the flu is on the move, according to Dr. Rick Johnson, the county’s public health officer.
“Although California is one of the three states only reporting regional activity, emergency department visits in San Diego for influenza-like illness have doubled in the last reporting week—evidence that things are beginning to happen in Southern California,” he said.
“We all recognize that whatever happens in Southern California, happens in Mammoth within a few weeks. We are seeing signs that the flu has reached Mono County, and is expected to continue to increase over the next few weeks.”
At the same time, it is getting harder—although not impossible—to get a flu shot in Mono County, as the vaccine supply gets tapped throughout much of the rest of the United States.
As of earlier this week, pharmacists at both Vons and Rite Aid pharmacies were out of the vaccine, although they both said they were expecting some more doses by the end of the week.
Mono County Public Health Department officials also said more vaccines were expected.
It is not clear if the doses will meet the demand, however, should demand continue like it has recently. This week is the first week that pharmacists like Vons’ pharmacy manager Nancy Johnson saw a run on the vaccine for this year’s flu.
“On Monday of this week, we had 40 doses for adults,” she said. “By Tuesday night, it was gone—and there are many people still waiting.”
The vaccine shortage mirrors a national—and now, a state—trend as late-coming demand for the vaccine begins to outstrip the supply.
“The companies are now making vaccines for next year’s flu, so it’s coming down to getting whatever is still out there,” said Nancy Johnson.
“It’s hard to come by, but corporate did secure a good amount and we were told we would have it this past Wednesday, but now, we’re hearing it will be closer to the end of the week.”
The pharmacy at Vons has given 500 to 550 shots since Aug. 1 when the shot became available, she said.
“Persons who have not yet been vaccinated against seasonal influenza should do so, and sooner rather than later,” said Rick Johnson. “In addition to just beating the anticipated peak, the supply is barely keeping up with the increased demand.
“Influenza vaccine makers were expected to supply the U.S. market with some 135 million doses. As of Jan. 4, roughly 128 million doses had been distributed. Given reports of spot shortages, vaccine seekers may have to call more than a single health care provider to receive their dose.”
He added that the effectiveness of the current seasonal influenza vaccine is 62 percent.
“This means that 38 percent of us who get vaccinated could still contract influenza,” he said. “These are still good odds, with this vaccine being a good match for circulating strains of the flu virus. The flu vaccine is far from perfect, but it is the best tool by far for preventing the flu. It is well worth the effort, and decades of experience show that it is very safe.”
Nancy Johnson said Vons is expected to get 30-40 more doses this week, with most of the demand now for adults.
“Most of the kids have already been vaccinated, through their schools,” she said.
Vons charges $30 for each shot, with a discount of 10 percent on all the groceries for that visit. Many insurance companies cover the flu shot, as a form of preventative care.
Rite Aid pharmacist Christina Abd Almasih said she, too, is expecting more doses before Friday, but declined to say how many more doses. The Rite Aid pharmacy distributed “more than 1,000” adult and child doses since flu season began, she said.
And as to why California still lags behind every other state in the country—that’s a hard question to answer, according to Rick Johnson.
“I don’t have an answer to that question,” he said. “It is different every year in terms of when and where it starts, and I don’t believe anyone has a good handle on the multi-factors involved. Sort of like predicting earthquakes.”