Pharmacies reporting localized shortages of flu shots for seniors

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Seniors in some parts of Vermont may have a tough time getting their flu shots or shingles vaccines right now.

That's alarming because the CDC estimates between 70 and 85 percent of deaths from the seasonal flu are people who are 65 and older. They also account for 50 to 70 percent of seasonal flu hospitalizations.

WCAX was alerted to the localized shortages by a woman in Essex who was trying to get the flu shot for seniors -- and the shingles vaccine. She contacted us when she was told by a local pharmacy that there was a waitlist of 300 people for one of those shots.

We found out it's something that's frustrating other pharmacists in the area too. "Right now, there's an overall shortage around the neighborhood," said Kyle Maxwell with the Lakeside Pharmacy in Burlington.

Get your flu shot. It's the message on the signs at Lakeside, and if you're a regular adult or child, they've got you covered. But seniors wanting the high-dose shot are out of luck. Maxwell says they're out. along with many other pharmacies in the area. "Usually there's someone around who has some, but it seems like this year there's really not much around," he said.

The high-dose shot -- Fluzone -- is designed specifically for the immune systems of older adults, and the CDC says it's 24 percent more effective at preventing the flu in seniors. Maxwell says because they have to put their order in a year in advance, it can be hard to predict how much they'll need and that running out of inventory is not uncommon.

The Vermont Department of Health says because the World Health Organization took four weeks longer than usual to select the vaccine strain, that has pushed shipping of the shot out four weeks. "They're trying to keep up but they can't," Maxwell said.

The delays for Shingrix, the preferred shingles vaccine, are because it's really popular. "It comes and goes as fast as it gets in really," Maxwell said.

It's a two-dose shot that needs to happen within a two to six month period, according to the CDC. But the CDC also says it's on backorder due to high demand. They expect that to continue throughout the rest of this year.

Maxwell says they're not sure exactly when they get more of both vaccines. "We have a waiting list for people to get on but it's practically a mile long at this point so it's tough to keep up with but we're doing our best," he said.

So what are the options if you're waiting? Seniors can get a different shot called FluAd, or get the standard dose flu vaccine, it just might not be as effective for them. As for the shingles shot, it's a matter of calling around to find someone who has it. The health department suggests starting with your health care provider.