ADDISON COUNTY — After months of delays, local pharmacies and health care organizations are reporting that more supplies of the seasonal and H1N1 “swine” flu vaccines have finally trickled into the county.
Though public concern over the H1N1 flu seems to have died down in the wake of the October and November surge in illness, epidemiologists are predicting that another spike in illnesses could hit in a few months, and health care workers are encouraging patients to be immunized against both strains of the flu.
Tom McDonald, a pharmacist at Marble Works Pharmacy in Middlebury, acknowledged that the seasonal flu vaccine in particular was late to get to the region this year. The pharmacy learned in early September that the 6,000 doses of seasonal flu vaccine it preordered last January would be delayed, and by October the pharmacy — and the doctors’ offices the pharmacy supplies — were still waiting for vaccines to arrive.
That delay was due in large part to the late-breaking development of the H1N1 vaccine, which diverted resources away from seasonal flu vaccine production, explained Vermont Department of Health Commissioner Wendy Davis. The process of making vaccines is also temperamental; vaccines are produced by growing influenza viruses in chicken eggs, and Davis said the timing of that process is always unpredictable.
Now, finally, the market has loosened up a little.
“Very slowly the market has started to come up with some available product,” McDonald said.
Granted, the price of the vaccines is higher than in years past.
“There were times that we kind of had to bite our lip and purchase it anyway,” McDonald said.
The pharmacy has scheduled vaccination clinics and also provided doctors’ offices with between 50 and 75 percent of the flu vaccines doctors originally ordered, should patients prefer to be vaccinated by their family practitioner.
At this point, Davis said the state has plenty of H1N1 vaccine, and is making good progress toward vaccinating as many Vermonters as wish to receive the inoculation. The Department of Health has wrapped up vaccination clinics in close to 400 Vermont schools, and now is running clinics open to patients of any age who wish to receive the vaccine.
Statewide, Davis said seasonal flu vaccines are in shorter supply, and the Department of Health doesn’t expect much more seasonal flu vaccine to come to Vermont.
But in Addison County, health care providers so far aren’t worried about their supply of the vaccine.
“We have an abundance (of both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines),” said Larry Goetschius, the executive director at Addison County Home Health and Hospice.
Goetschius’s organization has two more vaccination clinics scheduled this year, on Jan. 26 and Feb. 11 at the American Legion in Middlebury.
Goetschius said demand for both the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines was highest early in the fall — precisely when supplies were most limited.
“Demand kind of fell off in December,” Goetschius said. “That was because the news reports were saying that the prevalence of H1N1 was going down. Then, all of the vaccine came in late December and early January.”
Though demand is still off from earlier in the fall, Goetschius urged individuals to come in for the vaccine. He said that January and February are traditionally the two biggest months for the flu, and health officials are worried about a “bounce back” in the number of illnesses.
Though he expressed frustration that vaccines were so slow to arrive this year, Goetschius said his organization is finally where it wants to be in terms of supplies.
“We’re really where we wanted to be in October, being able to have enough vaccine to offer it to anyone who wanted to get it,” he said.