There's some good news out of the flu vaccine shortage: Howard County health officials are receiving rations of flu shots and nasal mist vaccine that together exceed the number of shots they were expecting before the shortage.
The Health Department expects to administer about 8,500 doses of vaccine this fall under a distribution process overseen by federal and state health agencies. About 7,000 doses are shots, and the remaining are the nasal mist vaccine.
Two public clinics are scheduled in Howard during the next week, with supplies that should eliminate the long lines seen after the shortage was announced, said Penny Borenstein, the county health officer. "You don't have to show up at 4 a.m.," she said.
It's a dramatic change from early October, when the nation's supply was reduced by 48 million doses -- nearly half -- because of possible contamination at a British manufacturing plant. The county, which has 60,000 people considered at high risk for flu complications, had ordered 8,200 flu shots. At the time, it had only 170 doses on hand to administer at public clinics. Private distributors and doctors also had a limited amount of vaccine available.
The two clinics scheduled in the next week will administer the shots and the nasal mist to children and those in other high-risk groups. Three earlier clinics provided flu shots to the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions.
"With each clinic that we have, we feel more comfortable that we're going to cover the needs of people who show up saying they need a shot," said Cynthia Lipsitz, the Health Department's medical director.
The department has scheduled a clinic from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the George Howard Building, 3450 Court House Dr. in Ellicott City. Another clinic is set for noon to 6:30 p.m. Monday at St. John's Episcopal Church, 9120 Frederick Rd. in Ellicott City.
Children 6 months to 23 months, toddler siblings of infants and adult caregivers of infants are eligible for the flu vaccine. Obtaining the vaccine has been a hot topic even at private pediatricians' offices that received supplies before the shortage.
"Everyone's coming up with a reason they're eligible for it if they don't fit the [high-risk] guidelines," said Columbia pediatrician Dana Wollney. "It's been enough to create some commotion."
Another Columbia pediatrician, Michael Lasser, decided after his office phones began "ringing off the hook" to offer flu shots to his patients' parents and grandparents if they met the high-risk guidelines.
"We were fortunate to receive our supply at the end of August," he said.
The county clinics will provide FluMist, a nasal mist vaccine, to health care workers and adult caregivers up to age 49. Healthy children 5 and older who regularly spend time with infants also can obtain FluMist. Proof of county residency will be required. A flu shot costs $10, and FluMist is $16.
Although the health agency's vaccine supply now exceeds the doses it planned to administer this fall, Lipsitz pointed out that officials cannot assume, as they did in previous years, that many additional residents will receive flu shots from private providers.
"We still have to be somewhat restrictive," said Lipsitz.