Change in distribution causes flu shot delay

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - An effort to get a flu shot proves fruitless for 72-year-old Mayrene Bates as her HMO delays vaccine appointments.

When Bates made her first phone call to Sutter Regional Medical Foundation in early October for a flu vaccine, she was informed to call back after Nov. 15, a six-week delay.

There was a shortage of supply, she was told, and priorities for seniors and babies would not be taking place this year.

She opted for a flu shot at Safeway during one of their clinics but turned back at the door. "Why should I pay $25 when I have an HMO?" she thought.

"I feel I pay an enormous amount for health insurance and for me, it's a matter of principal," she said. "If I have an HMO that is supposed to give me the shots because I pay a very high insurance premium, why should I have to go find another location? It's not the money, it's the principal."

In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that more than 100 million doses of influenza vaccine was expected to be available this year, supplying some of the vaccines by the end of October to all providers who ordered it, a press release stated.

This is true, said Carolyn Appenzeller, chief operating officer at Sutter Regional Medical Foundation, but Sutter Regional had difficulty getting all the vaccine from their two manufacturers.

"We ordered pre-filled syringes and there was a delay," Appenzeller said. "We did get a supply this week and we should have plenty of flu vaccine. There is no shortage."

But Bates phoned again on Wednesday, one day after Appenzeller said a shipment of flu shots arrived at Sutter Regional and was immediately transferred to a recording.

"The hotline said it should be available within two to three weeks and they will not be scheduling flu shots until mid- or late November," Bates said.

The process of distributing flu vaccines changed this year, according to Curtis Allen, spokesperson for CDC. Instead of shipping providers their requested amount, the five manufactures used a proportional system, distributing a particular portion of the vaccine "all across the board," ensuring equity to their customers.

"Manufacturers sent out somewhere between 10 to 15 percent of the doses ordered, giving everyone an opportunity to have vaccinations," he said.

According to Allen, 62.5 million doses were distributed as of Oct. 27, reaching close to about 75 million within the next few days, he said.

Providers placed their orders in February, Allen said, but a change in how proportions would be distributed didn't reach the public until August.

"We've been saying that October and November are the best time to get vaccines but people feel that October is too late to be vaccinated. It's not," he said.

"Manufacturers are producing the vaccine as quickly as they can," Allen continued. "But all vaccines will not be available as early as it was in the past."