The District will receive more than 5,400 adult doses of flu vaccine from Congress, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and a downtown legal firm -- a major shot in the arm given the national shortfall that has left many medical providers in the city with virtually no inventory.
More than half the total was handed over yesterday as a donation from the attending physician of the Capitol, officials said. The attending physician's office has been criticized for making shots widely available to members of Congress and their staffs, even as the public was waiting for hours in lines for the vaccine and the federal government was urging that it be given only to those at highest risk.
The rest of the doses will be on hand by Friday, either obtained at cost or for free from the World Bank, the IMF and the law firm of Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood. For a city health department scrambling for every shot, just like public health agencies across the country, the sudden inventory is a relief.
"It's only a fraction of the need," said the city's acting health director, Gregg A. Pane. "Still, 5,400 doses are better than none or a few."
They will be distributed largely through the D.C. Hospital Association and two medical societies, as well as the primary care organization that represents community clinics and the Whitman-Walker Clinic, which treats many HIV patients. City paramedics also will benefit.
The "data-driven distribution," Pane said, should ensure that the most vulnerable populations are the most likely to benefit -- the elderly, adults with chronic conditions and frontline health-care workers and emergency responders. The plan is a far different from Montgomery County's: It is holding a lottery that so far has more than 16,000 county residents vying for 800 flu shots.
Before half of the nation's expected vaccine supply this winter was thrown out because of possible contamination, the city had anticipated receiving 24,000 adult flu doses. However, all of those were ordered from Chiron Corp., the company that this month was criticized for problems at its British manufacturing plant.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now is working with Aventis Pasteur, the country's other supplier, to ship its remaining inventory to targeted destinations. The District hopes to obtain 12,000 more doses through that channel by early December.
The D.C. Health Care Association, which represents local nursing homes, just learned of a significant delivery on the way from Aventis and declined city officials' offer of a portion of yesterday's windfall, Pane said.
The 3,000 doses from Capitol Hill came after pointed pressure from D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who suggested that the Capitol's attending physician, John F. Eisold, had favored "preference categories" of elected officials over the CDC's "priority categories of Americans."
"For humanitarian reasons," she requested that any remaining vaccine or additional deliveries be turned over to the city.
"I'm very relieved, at least in the short run," Norton said yesterday, accompanied by Pane and representatives of some of the organizations that will be responsible for dispensing the supply. "They could not be more needed" on the local front, she stressed.
Top congressional leaders praised the transfer.
"Dr. Eisold has done great work in trying to keep the Capitol Hill community healthy," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). "This decision reflects his desire to help keep the region healthy."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a physician who until several days ago had been urging even healthy colleagues to be immunized, called the contribution "the right thing to do."
The vaccine obtained from the other sources came about through phone calls, including one from a law firm employee wondering about its scheduled vaccine clinic. City officials said they contacted the firm, which offered to turn over its supply at cost.
Norton and Pane urged other businesses and doctors to do the same with any vaccine that will not go to high-risk employees or patients. Pane estimated that 25,000 doses are in private practitioners' hands. "It's a maldistribution," he said.
An emergency rule remains in effect in the city prohibiting providers from giving vaccine to anyone not in a high-risk group.