Residents, health officials dealing with flu shot shortage

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:16

    SPARTA-Sussex County is not immune to the shortage of flu vaccines plaguing the country. The shortage will result in only a select few residents being protected from a potentially fatal illness. Because of production problems overseas by one of the major producers of the vaccine, the United States, including Sussex County, is bracing for the arrival of the influenza season, which lasts from October through March, without the usual health precautions. Traditionally, many local health departments and businesses have dispensed flu shots at nominal fees to area residents. In the past week, almost all municipalities and private suppliers have canceled their planned vaccination clinics. While the Centers for Disease Control recommends the flu shot as a priority for senior citizens, those with chronic illnesses, pregnant women, and children, area doctors are struggling to have their high risk patients receive the shot. "We're telling parents to sit tight," said Dr. Catherine McHugh of Sparta Pediatrics, who received a small batch of the shots last week. "We just don't know how many shots there will be to go around." For now, McHugh is only dispensing shots to "high risk" patients. "I wanted to head off what we had last year," said Wendy Frieling MD, another Sparta pediatrician who received a large shipment of shots before the vaccine shortage was discovered. Last year's flu season struck the area and the country harder when a severe strain of influenza appeared earlier than expected. "I was fortunate that I had a large supply delivered, however, the high risk kids will still get the vaccine first," said Frieling. Sparta Health Officer Ralph J. D'Aries, who has cancelled all the township sponsored vaccination clinics, said that he has been "inundated" with telephone calls from concerned citizens. However, the municipality does not plan at this time to offer any shot. Similarly, Ronetco, the corporate owner of the area's Shoprites, has canceled all of its annual flu shot clinics. The corporation traditionally offers the shots to area residents at a nominal fee. Aries recommends that all "at risk" patients should consult their physicians to receive the shot and asks others to be patient dealing with the crisis. "Healthy individuals should not request vaccination from their private physician or other dispensing sites," D'Aries added. "For at risk people who may not be able to consult a physician, we've been directing them to" The Web site lists public flu clinics and times based on a visitor's zip code. "Thus far, people have called back with positive results," said D'Aries.