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Doctors Report Feast and Famine For Flu Vaccine

NPR covers physicians' frustration that they haven't received their flu vaccine supply yet, and patients are clamoring for it. They quote a large supplier, Mark Mlotek of Henry Schein, Inc. as stating, "Will there be Wal-Marts that have it and doctors' offices that don't? Yes, I believe that will happen again this year."

If so, I'd expect that the CDC would retool their advice on who gets immunized. They haven't, and publicly state that there should be enough vaccine, although supplies may not be delivered until later. This is perfectly ok in terms of considering how soon you need to be immunized: it takes 2 weeks to become immune. The flu season doesn't start being more of a problem until January-Febuary, and although in rare years it does start to be a problem in October, that doesn't seem to be happening this year. In many years the largest part of the nation's flu vaccine supply isn't delivered until November, which is ok. This still gives patients plenty of time to develop immunity before the flu season really kicks in.

To be safest, of course you should get your flu shot sooner than later. But for now there's no need to fear a shortage as Henry Schein's statement may lead you to believe. As long as you believe the CDC...

Update: Vincent Iannelli, MD found a reason for the delay: "The likely reason for the delay in shipment of flu shots relates to the fact one of the strains of the flu that was included in this year's flu shot was 'hard to grow,' as was reported by a flu expert from the Public Health Agency of Canada."

Update: Dr. Anonymous has a 2 dozen commenters chattering away on how they feel when patients come knocking for flu vaccine too early, with one of the commenters, Tim, saying that a significant portion of the population needs to be immunized in order for herd immunity to take place, and posting on his own blog about why flu vaccine shortages take place: we don't pay manufacturers enough and there's no economic benefit from putting more effort into ensuring adequate production. This is why I love reading blogs, they link to each other's great posts about the same topic and start a discussion. He links to PBS and NY Times coverage on flu vaccine production. Tim also links to Greg Mankiw at Harvard who points to the WSJ coverage of the PLoS study I covered a few posts ago about who to immunize in order to get the most effect in lowering flu illness.

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About the Author


Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.