Maricopa County's 14,000 doses of influenza vaccine will not be provided to the public for at least two weeks as public health officials figure out how best to dole out the limited supply to those who need it most.
County health officials are working on a lottery system in which people who are considered high-risk for developing complications from the flu would call in or mail flu shot requests. A computer system would then randomly select who will be inoculated. The system will help the public avoid standing in long lines and ensure every high-risk person has a shot at a vaccination, said Christine Mahon, program administrator for the community health nursing office at the county Department of Public Health.
The office will not begin providing flu shots to the public until after Nov. 15, she said.
"What we're trying to do is avoid panic, (or having) people stand in line five hours and not get their flu shot," Mahon said. "Fourteen thousand doses is not enough for everybody, so we're working on this as equitably and rationally and as based on science as we possibly can."
The county health department also is identifying how many nursing home residents and health care workers in acute care settings like hospital emergency departments have been unable to get vaccinated. They, too, will likely get a portion of the flu shot allotment, she said.
About half the nation's flu vaccine supply was lost last month when British regulators halted American-bound vaccine supplies from Chiron Corp. when contamination was identified. Since then, Aventis-Pasteur, the only other major flu vaccine manufacturer supplying the United States, has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to distribute remaining doses to high-risk people.
Public health officials said they were surprised to learn that the Arizona Department of Health Services will receive 22,500 doses this week from an order placed last year for an emergency drill in which health care workers would be inoculated. Arizona got the allotment, which is half the original order, because the flu shot request targeted health care workers who are considered high risk, said Kathy Fredrickson, office chief of the state health department's immunization program. The drill has been canceled and vaccine will be directed to county health departments throughout the state this week.
"I'm amazed that we got this, really," Mahon said. "There's only a finite amount in the U.S. Every state is clamoring for it. Every state has high-risk groups."
Until distribution begins, county health officials are asking the public to be patient and remain calm. The county will provide information soon about submitting flu shot requests. "This is a normal time of year to get a flu shot.
There's no emergency," Mahon said. "There's no need to have it today."
Nonetheless, dozens of people waited in line Wednesday in Scottsdale for flu shots provided by CIGNA Healthcare of Arizona. The line snaked along the sidewalk on the south side of Indian School Road. A county sheriff's deputy helped keep the crowd in line. "This is silly. I'd rather get the flu than wait in this line," said Paul Noll, 72, of Scottsdale, who waited with his wife, Patricia, and son, Michael. Noll usually gets a yearly flu shot from his doctor, but this year, neither his doctor nor his wife's or son's physicians had vaccine.
Monica Merdich of Scottsdale, who also stood in line for a flu shot, said the shortage was unfortunate but not catastrophic. "These things happen," she said. "Thank goodness they detected it early enough."
About 1,200 people received flu shots Wednesday at the clinic. CIGNA plans to continue providing flu shots to the public until Dec. 11, said Whitney Anderson, a CIGNA spokeswoman. "Knock on wood, we're doing OK," she said of CIGNA's vaccine supply.
Most flu shot clinics in the Valley have run out of vaccine. While doctor's offices may have vaccine available, state officials and community organizations are not sure which ones do.