State Health Department Issues Advice About Flu Shots

Local Clinics Scheduled for "High Risk" Individuals, Others Need not be Alarmed

ALBANY, NY, December 23, 2003 - State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. today urged people at high risk of serious complications from flu to continue to try to get a flu shot, but said healthy individuals should not be overly concerned if they cannot get vaccinated.

A list of flu shot clinics scheduled by local health departments is posted on the State Health Departments wide site at www.health.ny.gov (editor's note: see attachment). Interested individuals should contact their local health department for details. Some clinics are open only to those already on waiting lists; others are just for children. At all clinics, high risk individuals are being prioritized to receive shots.

"An earlier than expected flu season, coupled with a new strain of influenza, has prompted unprecedented media coverage of flu cases and record demand for flu vaccine. The predictable result is that many people may be unduly alarmed about an illness that for most healthy individuals is unpleasant, but not serious or life-threatening," Dr. Novello said.

"Knowing the facts may help alleviate some concerns. First, it is normal for flu vaccine supplies to be depleted this time of year. Manufacturers produced far more vaccine this year (87.1 million doses) than were administered during the last flu season (79 million doses). Because there is a finite supply of vaccine, not everyone who wants a flu shot will be able to get one. However, we are working to make flu shots available to people who need them most."

While it is true that many private physicians have exhausted their vaccine supplies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is acquiring additional doses of injectable vaccine for distribution to state health departments. As soon as vaccine is received, the State Health Department is providing it to local health departments for patients who are at risk of serious complications from flu (people 65 and older, persons with a chronic illness, pregnant women in their second and third trimesters and babies six months to 23 months). People five to 49 years of age, who are otherwise healthy, have the option of using the live virus "nasal spray" vaccine and should discuss that approach with their health care provider."

Although the predominant strain of flu differs slightly this year from the strains in the vaccine, there is nothing unusual about the virus or the way it spreads: through the air when someone coughs or sneezes, and through droplets that land on surfaces and get on people's hands and into their bodies when they touch their mouth or nose.

Health officials advise that if someone close to you has the flu, it's a good idea to clean surfaces and make sure everyone in your family is diligent about washing their hands. If you have flu symptoms, check with your health care provider to determine whether you need to be seen. Don't go to work or school until your symptoms subside. Not only will this help speed your recovery, you also won't expose others to your illness.

Although there have been tragic reports nationwide of children dying from complications of influenza this year, most children will have only a mild illness if they get the flu. Parents should seek treatment immediately if flu symptoms worsen, such as increased dehydration, difficulty breathing, or if a child becomes combative or overly lethargic. A fever that reappears after flu symptoms have begun to abate could be a sign of a secondary bacterial infection and should be reported to your health care provider immediately. Fortunately, serious complications in children are not common. However, parents should stay informed.

"We urge parents to continue to pay attention to health advice and channel their worries in positive actions that can help limit the transmission of influenza," Dr. Novello said. Reinforce with your children the importance of sensible precautions like hand washing and good respiratory hygiene. These simple steps are effective ways to reduce the spread of flu virus."