December 11, 2003
Anchorage, AK - The Alaska Department of Health & Social Services (DHSS) on Tuesday recommended that all Alaska health care providers target their remaining supplies of the influenza vaccine to groups at the highest risk of severe complications from the flu. The recommendation was prompted by nationwide concerns that an unprecedented demand for the vaccine this year has caused a national shortage in the vaccine supply.
The DHSS Division of Public Health (DPH) Director Doug Bruce said remaining vaccine supplies should be targeted for children 6 months through 23 months of age, persons 65 years of age and older, and persons of any age with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and asthma or with weakened immune systems.
In anticipation of higher demand for the flu vaccine this year, the state ordered 10,000 more doses than last year. "We ordered and received 90,000 doses this year for our public health centers and many Alaska private providers. In addition, many private providers purchased additional vaccine directly from the manufacturers. In spite of this increased supply, it appears that this year's unprecedented demand for vaccine due to the earlier than usual flu prevalence nationwide has led to a concern that there will not be enough vaccine for high risk individuals who have not yet received a shot," Bruce said.
"It could be that most of the people in the high risk groups who wanted a flu shot have already gotten a flu shot, but we just don't know that. We're taking this step to assure that, as much as possible, our remaining vaccine supply can be used for those persons in whom the disease can be most severe," he added.
State Public Health officials are working with the local public health centers and private providers to assess the vaccine availability statewide and determine a plan for distributing any excess to those areas most in need. If additional vaccine becomes available, these recommendations to restrict the vaccine to high-risk persons may be adjusted.
Meanwhile, State public health centers are limiting remaining flu vaccine to high-risk individuals only, and asking private health care providers to do the same.
"In previous years when we have experienced a flu vaccine shortage, the Alaskan public has been very supportive of our decision to limit it to high-risk persons, and we anticipate receiving the same support for our decisions this year," Bruce said.
Epidemiologists with the Division of Public Health are also encouraging people to take several simple precautions to help guard against getting or transmitting the flu, including:
People in the high-risk categories should contact their health care provider if they experience flu-like symptoms.
Influenza is a viral respiratory illness marked by the sudden onset of fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. The illness is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, sending the highly contagious virus into the air.
Additional online information about influenza: