Babies and toddlers are top flu shots priority

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:17

    WEST MILFORD-With flu vaccine in short supply, local sentiment appears to be "kids first." "I'd give it to the kids first," says Dolly Hansen of West Milford. "I'm 72 years old and my doctor can't get any (flu vaccine). I'm a diabetic and my 68-year-old husband is a diabetic with high, high blood pressure and we can't get it." "The children should get priority," according to Betty McHugh, a local resident who admits to being more than 65 years old. "There are lots of people who could have problems, I think the government should do something about it." Desiree Hammel, 26, of Greenwood Lake, N.Y., who was here shopping with her family, faces a double dilemma. She is pregnant, has asthma, and a two-year-old son. Asked if those older than 65, or with health problems should receive available flu shots, she replied: "the children." Indeed, the town's young children likely will receive their shots. Dr. Jeffrey Horowitz of the Herbert Kania Pediatric Group at 1900 Union Valley Road, says: "We've been pretty fortunate because we got our vaccine in early this year and received pretty much our full compliment. All our vaccine is from Aventis. We received 400 doses already and were told another 200 are on the way. We only do children," he explained. Small children most succeptible Why is such emphasis being placed on small children? Paula Edelstein, senior public health nurse with the town's health department explains that: "The children from six months to 23 months of age are also in same high risk category as people 65 or older. Their respiratory systems are not capable of fighting off and handling the virus." That's because their lungs haven't fully developed until they are about two years old, she said. Children under six-months of age have yet to develop their immune system and therefore aren't eligible for the shots. "I really want to stress that the babies (over six months) really need this," said Edelstein. "They have less reserve than people over 65 who are well. "People who don't get a flu shot this year, should avoid crowds. Infants under 6 moths should not be taken into crowds during flu season. That's October through the end of March," especially from December onward, she said. She also offered some cautionary tips. "Those who are high risk should avoid crowds. People need to cover their mouths and frequently wash their hands when they are sick. We need to stress common sense and less panic. We need to take care of each other." Will there be enough vaccine? "We anticipate having enough doses for all children 6 mo. To 2 years, and children with respiratory illnesses like asthma and with chronic diseases such as diabetes or sickle cell." The health department had a clinic on Wednesday, and another is scheduled for Oct. 25, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Grange Hall at Bald Eagle Commons. The last one, if they get more vaccine, will be Nov. 5 in town hall from 4-7 p.m. "We have ordered 1,170 doses. And we only got 540 so far. We're hoping, because we're a health department, that the CDC will release the rest of our order to use," Edelstein said. "People under 49 who want to look for the flu mist, that is going to be plentiful, but cant' give it until immunize all the high risk people first. That's because it's a live vaccine whereas the injection is a ‘not alive' vaccine," she said. "The two-million (flu mist doses available nationwide) will be for those under age 49. A person cannot be over 50. Basically, people over 50 could have an undetected cardiac or lung problem, or even diabetes, that would be putting them at risk. Flu is a major killer "Another very important issue is that 36,000 people died (of the flu) nationwide, last year. Of the 36,000, they were people 65 and older and the babies. They are the ones that died. That was last year when we gave flu vaccine. There were 36,000 deaths, but last year they had a strain that came out that wasn't covered by the flu shot. The flu vaccine covers three strains of flu, and last year a fourth one came up that was very prevalent and even if they had the flu shot they got the flu because there was no protection for that strain." Annually some 30,000 people die from the flu. According to the National Firearm Injury Statistics System (NFISS) at Harvard University, fewer people died last year from all firearms related deaths, including murder, accidents and suicides than die from flu. "A total of 42,643 people died in traffic accidents last year, down from 43,005 the year before and marking the first drop in fatalities in six years, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said," according to an Aug. 11 story by By Greg Schneider, a Washington Post staff writer. How many people in the town should be vaccinated, based on prior years? "Last year we ordered 1,060," Edelstein said. Asked about the number of high risk, due to age, babies and toddlers, Edelstein said "approximately 594 children who were born in our town in the last two years, would be in the high risk category. "Another question is people ask why Chiron. (The British flu vaccine maker shut down by the British government due to contaminated production.) We were supposed to get 50 million flu shots from them, Edelstein said, as well as 50 million from a U.S. pharmaceutical company. "No one (in the U.S.) is responsible for the contamination. It had nothing to do with politics or our country." Speaking of the current shortage she said: "Why should companies produce the vaccine if they know other companies are already producing enough for our needs. If Chiron was supposed to be producing 50 million for us, I'm sure that Europe is really hurting." "When people come to the clinics, we're asking people to bring their medication with them as proof ," Edelstein said. "It's quite interesting what people will tell you," as to excuses for needing the flu shot. We are trying to triage people in line so they don't have to wait if they aren't elligible. "People are scared. People aren't lifting their canes or wacking each other yet, but there are people who are getting a little bit impatient."