Statement from the New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D. M.P.H, Dr.P.H, Regarding Availability of Flu Vaccine

ALBANY, NEW YORK, December 5, 2003 – Proactive efforts by health officials to educate people about the importance of influenza vaccination, coupled with national media reports about an earlier and potentially more severe flu season, have convinced near record numbers of people to get vaccinated this year. However, as a result of the increased national demand, vaccine makers say their supplies are now running low and they will not be able to fill additional vaccine orders.

Currently, health officials have characterized influenza activity as "regional" in New York, meaning that influenza cases have been confirmed in fewer than half the regions of our state. Although the flu season has started earlier than in the previous three years, our state is not experiencing the widespread flu activity that is occurring elsewhere.

We have been conferring closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the situation, and we are surveying Local Health Departments to determine how much flu vaccine they have available. It is important to remember that the vast majority of flu vaccine previously distributed went to private physicians—many of whom may still have vaccine left. A total of 83 million doses were produced and distributed for use during this flu season. Those who still want to get a flu shot should check with their health care provider as soon as possible, particularly if they are at risk for more severe complications if they contract flu.

In any flu season, children account for the highest rate of influenza hospitalizations. As is customary, the State Health Department has stockpiled flu vaccine through our Vaccines for Children (VFC) program to prepare appropriately. We have nearly 11,000 doses still available for the VFC program with at least another 5,000 doses on the way. We are working to get this additional vaccine to health care providers for young children.

Those who cannot get a flu shot and want the flu vaccine may consider the new flu vaccine "nasal spray." The CDC believes that this product may still be readily available. However, this vaccine is only approved for healthy individuals aged 5 to 49. We urge you to consult with your health care provider to help decide if this approach is right for you.

There are other ways to reduce your risk from flu. Your doctor can suggest certain medications that may help if you have been exposed to influenza, or are experiencing flu symptoms. Symptoms often resemble those of many upper respiratory infections, but appear much more swiftly and are more severe. A person who has the flu usually has a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, chills, a severe headache and muscle aches as well as a cough and sore throat. It’s important to get started on this medicine very soon after symptoms being.

It is also critically important to wash your hands frequently. Frequent hand-washing can reduce the spread of viruses that cause cold and flu. Respiratory viruses can stay alive for many hours on surfaces like doorknobs, elevator buttons and railings. When you touch the surface, germs get on your hands. If you rub your eyes or nose afterward, the germs can get into your body and make you sick. To reduce illness, carry a waterless hand gel and use it often. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water every time you go to the bathroom. To reduce the spread of viruses, when you cough or sneeze, always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, and then dispose of it properly.

If you would like additional information about flu, please visit the State Health Department’s web site at www.health.ny.gov. Select the button labeled "influenza" located under the "Features" heading.

Persons at Risk for More Serious Complications from Flu

  • Persons 50 years of age or older;
  • Adults and children with chronic, long-term health problems—such as heart or lung conditions, kidney disease, asthma, HIV/AIDS or any illness that suppresses the immune system;
  • Healthy pregnant women who will be in their second and third trimester during flu season.

Flu shots are also recommended for:

  • Children 6-23 months old (children younger than two years have one of the highest rates of hospitalization from influenza)
  • Close contacts of those at risk:
    • Household member or caregiver
    • Healthcare worker
  • Household member or caregiver of children under 2 (children under 6 months cannot get a flu shot, but are at risk for severe disease).

Because flu often leads to pneumonia, at risk individuals should also receive pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) which protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. One dose of PPV usually will confer lifetime immunity to persons over 65.