The state health department will be making 22,500 doses of influenza vaccine available to high-risk people this week as a dwindling supply has closed flu shot clinics and left people searching in vain for an inoculation.
The doses are part of an order the Arizona Department of Health Services will receive and dole out to the state's 15 counties by Friday, with Maricopa County getting about 60 percent of the total, or about 13,500 flu shots.
Officials are asking that counties provide vaccinations only to those at high risk, including seniors, children ages 6 to 23 months, people with chronic health conditions such as asthma and diabetes, and people with weakened immune systems.
"I think it's going to be a nice little boost," said Catherine Eden, director of the state health department.
Counties cannot charge for the vaccine, but they may require an administrative fee, said Michael Murphy, a spokesman for the state health department. For more information, call the state's flu hotline at (602) 364-0244 or (866) 894-1594.
Although additional vaccine is welcome news, health care providers said it's unlikely the doses will meet intense demand for vaccinations this year.
"Any amount of vaccine is helpful," said Dr. Art Mollen, whose clinics are the largest provider of flu shots in the state. With supplies dwindling, Mollen closed his clinics and is taking remaining doses to nursing homes. "Do I think it's adequate or sufficient? No."
The doses come as the nation copes with about half the flu vaccine supply it expected, a shortfall that occurred when British regulators halted the America-bound supplies from Chiron Corp. over contamination fears. The company is one of two major flu shot manufacturers supplying the United States.
This year's flu vaccine is coming from Aventis-Pasteur, which will be sending the additional doses to the state health department this week. The shipment makes up about half of an order the state placed last year for an emergency preparedness exercise in which health care workers would be trained in providing mass vaccinations. The event was canceled after the shortage was announced, Eden said.
The order was purchased using $250,000 from the State Health Crisis Fund. The money includes $70,000 for a public awareness campaign about how people can avoid getting the flu.
Public health officials in Arizona have criticized the nation's vaccine manufacturing and distribution systems, which are left almost entirely to the private sector. With manufacturers backing out of the vaccine business, the nation was left vulnerable to a shortage, they said. And with supplies available primarily through private health care providers, state officials and community leaders have been unable to direct high-risk people to remaining flu shot supplies.
Donavon Bonertz, 68, said he was relieved to hear he now has somewhere to turn for flu vaccine. The Mesa resident said he called dozens of places looking for a flu shot for his 79-year-old wife.
The state, he said, "should be involved this year with the shortage, and I will certainly go ahead and call them."