Vermonters have been rolling up their sleeves for flu shots since September. And while the vaccine is not perfect, it's between 60 and 70 percent effective. Doctors say it's the best prevention against seasonal influenza. But an early, severe outbreak of the virus has prompted a lot of late season demand across the state. Health officials say there's still plenty to go around.
"There's lots of vaccine and there's vaccine at provider practices, both for adults and for children, and also at pharmacies," said Patsy Kelso of the Vermont Health Department. "It just might be hit or miss as far as which place has it at the time that you're looking for it."
And if a place is out, Kelso says more can be ordered. There is no nationwide or statewide shortage. As a universal state, Vermont provides all pediatric vaccines free of charge. Nearly 60,000 doses of flu vaccine were distributed to pediatric practices this year. But because of that universal status, pharmacies are prohibited from administering it to kids.
"We have requirements that have to be imposed by federal requirements on us in terms of who it can be used on, how it needs to be stored to make sure that it doesn't get wasted, so that the cold chain is maintained, that the proper types of refrigeration are in place, that there's a visit to every facility every so often that gets vaccine from us. Those systems are not set up for pharmacies," Kelso explained.
If needed, Vermont's health commissioner can relax those requirements, but at this time officials say it's not necessary. After declaring a public health emergency, New York did just suspend its rules so more kids could get flu shots. But Kelso says New York is different from Vermont, with barriers to access that Vermont does not have, with a different demographic and a larger population of people who don't have a primary care doctor. She says in Vermont, your physician practice is the best place to get your flu shot, even if you have to wait for an appointment.
"It often takes a little while to get a doctor's appointment and I think that's no different now, but doctors are working really hard to take care of their patients," Kelso said.
Kelso says the best medicine is a flu shot before flu season strikes.
"One thing we always try and remember is it's impossible to predict if the flu is going to be worse or less severe and so people have to pay attention to flu season," Kelso said. "It's serious. It comes every year and you know, people should be aware when vaccine is available, get vaccinated so you don't have to worry about it if it turns into a bad season because we never know what it's going to be like."
And at this point, Kelso says it's still too early to know if this season will prove worse than others because they don't know yet if the flu has reached its peak in Vermont.
Vermont's death toll from the flu this season remains at three. The state has seen 4-12 deaths a year since 2004.
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