October 22, 2009

Should we worry as swine flu fills emergency rooms with a vaccine in short supply?

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rita_hibbardwebHow much of a problem is swine flu shaping up to be? Don’t blame me if my head is spinning. Seems like I’ve been advised to be very worried — like when the White House council of science advisers warned it could kill  30,000 to 90,000 Americans — and then, maybe not so much. Symptoms are mild. Runs its course in three to five days. Wash your hands and you won’t get it anyway. Like that.

This week the flu is filling emergency rooms in Spokane in Washington state, while around the West, parents and others seeking the vaccine line up, often futilely, waiting for a vaccine that is in extremely short supply.

The vaccine simply isn’t being produced in sufficient quantities due to production problems, reports the Associated Press. Only 13 million doses have been delivered, compared to the 12o million doses originally promised. Okay, I’m a little worried.

“As nervous Americans clamor for the vaccine, production is running several weeks behind schedule, and health officials blame the pressure on pharmaceutical companies to crank it out along with the ordinary flu vaccine, and a slow and antiquated process that relies on millions of chicken eggs.

In Spokane, where officials expected to have about 58,000 doses of swine flu vaccine by now, just 12,700 doses have been delivered. As a result, 200 people lined up at local emergency rooms Wednesday, the Spokesman-Review reported. Many were sent home with instructions for bed rest, but others – pregnant women or those with respiratory problems  — were hospitalized. King County, the state’s largest metropolitan area, has gotten off lightly so far, with one death reported in September, and a total of 82 cases since April, the Seattle Times reported.

In Boise, parents were driving long distances to get their children immunized after schools repeatedly ran out of the vaccine, according to the Idaho Statesman. So far, the flu has killed more than 800 people in the U.S., including 86 children, 39 of them in the past month and a half, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of all hospitalizations since the beginning of September were people 24 and under. Said Michael Osterholm, a vaccine expert at the University of Minnesota:

“We’re in this race against the virus, and only Mother Nature knows how many cases are going to occur over the next six to 10 weeks.

 Don’t like the sound of that. I’m worried.

— Rita Hibbard

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