Flu Vaccine Not Impacted By Shutdown

Area Health Centers Still Able  To Obtain Doses From FDA

The availability of flu vaccinations this year should not be affected by the two-week long government shutdown, according to state and federal health care officials.

There are at least 135 million doses in the production pipeline, 73 million of which have been shipped to distributors, according to a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And despite persistent rumors that the shutdown would restrict the availability of flu vaccine this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is continuing to release doses to the public.

“We’ve heard some similar stories from other places,” said Steven Immergut, an FDA spokesman, of the rumors about slowed distribution. “But from our standpoint, the FDA, we have not been impacted.”

The government shutdown affects services that are funded by federal appropriations, but vaccines are covered under user fees, Immergut said. Therefore, there have been no delays in approving vaccine for distribution, he said.

Still, at least one flu clinic planned in Plainfield for today was canceled because organizers were told they would not be able to get doses of the vaccine due to the shutdown.

Stephanie Schell, Plainfield’s community resource director, said she was told by someone at Connecticut Valley Home Care that all flu vaccine shipments were suspended until further notice because of the government shutdown. So, the clinic planned during the Plainfield Senior Luncheon was canceled.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” Schell said, adding that she hopes to reschedule the clinic for November.

The Connecticut Valley Home Care employee who spoke with Schell was not available Wednesday. But the pharmacy director at Valley Regional Hospital, which owns Connecticut Valley Home Care, said the hospital has plenty of vaccine to go around.

The hospital ordered around 2,500 doses this year, of which it has received 2,000, said Mike Lessard, the pharmacy director. Valley Regional is fully stocked for a health fair scheduled for Saturday, he said.

Connecticut Valley Home Care has received 90 percent of the doses it ordered and still has some left, he said.

Nevertheless, Lessard had heard from other pharmacists about possible delays in vaccination shipments because of the shutdown. Even if true, he doubted it would have much of an effect.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a huge deal whatsoever,” he said. “Worse case scenario, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens get more customers.”

Hospital spokespersons for Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center confirmed that they have ample supplies of the vaccine. Mt. Ascutney held a flu clinic Tuesday night in Woodstock and served everyone.

“We haven’t heard of any issues,” said Alonzo Tapley, Mt. Ascutney’s director of quality and risk management. “We have adequate supply right now.”

Similarly, a free flu clinic scheduled today from 4-7 p.m. at the Enfield Community Center will have plenty of flu vaccine doses to go around, said Alice Ely, executive director of the Mascoma Valley Health Initiative, which is organizing the clinic. The clinic was getting its vaccine from Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

“We have absolutely no reason to believe that (the vaccine) is not sitting there ready to go,” Ely said.

Vermont health officials also confirmed there were no problems with the supply of vaccine.

“There has been no shortage,” said Chris Finley, Vermont’s immunization program chief. “We have adequate supply.”

Valley News staff writer Ernie Kohlsaat contributed to this report.

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.