Hospitals suspend flu shots

By Kate Michonski

The University of Chicago Hospitals has temporarily suspended its flu shot program for University employees due to delays in shipments from its supplier, Chiron. Vaccinations will resume as soon as it obtains more flu shots.

The Student Care Center’s (SCC) shipment, ordered separately from the same company, was received in full.

Chiron announced on October 17 that it would not be able to produce the anticipated amount of shots due to processing problems. Contamination of nearly half of Chiron’s supply last year caused flu shot shortages at the Hospitals as well.

The Hospitals order flu vaccines based upon patient volume from previous years and increase that amount according to projected demand. Unexpected manufacturing delays at Chiron, however, have temporarily lowered the supply.

John Easton, the media spokesman for the Hospitals, commented that the demand for the flu vaccination is abnormally high this year due to fears associated with the avian flu.

“Just like last year, there is more demand than supply. Because no one got what they ordered everyone is scrambling to get what they can,” said Easton.

The Hospital has received 13,000 of the 18,000 ordered and has vaccinated all high-priority, high-risk Hospital employees. This includes all staff members who are in direct contact with patients and those with medical problems, such as diabetes and asthma.

If the Hospital does not receive enough vaccinations to cover all University staff, they will distribute according to the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines. The CDC recommends that all those in “priority groups” receive access to flu shots first. This includes those with chronic health conditions, young children, pregnant women, health-care personnel, and those over 65.

Despite production complications, Chiron is still manufacturing more flu vaccines than it did last year. They produce a large fraction of the total U.S. supply, which is expected to exceed 80 million doses, a record high compared with last year’s 61 million doses.

Easton added that the vaccine rush of the last couple years is somewhat surprising. “For years we have had a difficult time convincing people to come in and get vaccinated, however, these past two years, demand has increased dramatically,” he said.

According to director Sarah Van Orman, the SCC normally distributes between 1,200 and 1,500 vaccines annually, but instead ordered 2,000 doses this year in anticipation of a jump in demand.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) believes the increased demand is due to heightened awareness of a possible avian flu pandemic and fears associated with last year’s vaccine shortage.

The CDC expects that the U.S. will be able to meet vaccine demands, although later than expected. The center estimates that 83 million doses will be distributed by the end of November and flu shots will be available throughout the flu season.

Flu season officially lasts from October to May, peaking in January. As the vaccine usually takes two weeks to “kick in” and because students are getting busy with finals, Van Orman recommended that students get the flu shot before Thanksgiving break.

The SCC will begin its “Flu Shot Days” program starting today from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. All University students can obtain a flu shot by coming in during walk-in hours with a UCID. On Friday, November 18, Monday, November 21, and Tuesday November 2, students can get vaccinated from 12-4 p.m. Appointments can also be made by calling the SCC.

The flu shot contains an inactivated vaccine which, when injected, causes the body to develop antibodies that protect against infection. However, because the vaccination only lasts one year and the viral strains differ from year to year, the CDC urges people to get the flu shot annually. Though it is not completely effective against fighting infection, it can provide the added protection that people—especially those with health complications—need during flu season.