Yes, Virginia, there is flu vaccine: Loudoun County is holding a mass vaccination clinic for high-risk county residents Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Simpson Middle School in Leesburg. (Information on the clinic is available by phone at 703-771-5512 or on the Web at www.loudoun.gov/codeflu/index.htm). The county acquired the vaccine under the redistribution plan being coordinated, mostly through state health departments, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lucy Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health, said the redistribution to government and private entities will continue into early December, so people seeking shots should continue to check with their health care providers. "We certainly wish we could serve the entire high-risk population that needs and wants to get a flu shot," said Caldwell, "but it is unclear whether or not we're going to be able to do that."

Virginia's situation is in stark contrast to Maryland's. That state is not coordinating distribution of the vaccine; that task is falling to localities. Some of these efforts -- including Prince George's County's creation of a hot line to distribute 2,800 shots and Montgomery's flu shot lottery -- have sown havoc.

More alternatives: Improvax Flu Defense, a homeopathic formulation touted as specifically designed to prepare the body for exposure to influenza, has washed ashore with the tide of alternatives in the face of the flu shot shortage. It's got the usual accoutrements -- a respectable spokesman (Darrell Hulisz, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine) and reports of years of effective use in Europe. But it also presents us with an opportunity to offer the reminder that leading experts say no alternative or complementary therapies have been proven effective against the flu.

Web site: The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has created a "Focus on the Flu" Web page for the media and the general public (www2.niaid.nih.gov/newsroom/focuson/flu04/) that includes everything you ever wanted to know about incidence, prevention and treatment. For those who still have questions, the site includes an "Ask the Experts" section.

-- Gregory Mott