Student Health to limit flu vaccines

    In response to a national flu vaccine shortage, UCSD Student Health Services is making flu immunizations available only to those who are in priority groups defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, according to campus administrators.

    “We’re following CDC and San Diego Health Departments’ guidelines,” Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Health and Wellness Brian Murray said. “We’re giving the shots to those identified as high risk.”

    Priority groups include six- to 23-month-old babies, adults over 65, pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions and health care workers with direct patient contact, according to a CDC statement. National health authorities have said that those who do not fall into the priority groups should not receive the vaccine.

    Student Health Services has turned away about 25 students, with 125 flu doses administered so far, according to Murray.

    “We have to screen everyone who comes in to make sure they’re in the high-risk group,” said Brad Buchman, clinical director of Student Health Services. “We really do need to vaccinate these people in this group.”

    The shortage began Oct. 5 when Chiron, the company providing half of the country’s influenza vaccines, notified the CDC that none of its flu vaccines would be available for this year’s flu season, according to a CDC statement.

    British health authorities shut down Chiron’s Liverpool factory for three months, preventing the release of any of its flu vaccine supply. The British Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency released a statement that cited concerns over possible contamination at the facility.

    Aventis Pasteur, the only other major supplier of flu shots in the United States, estimated it would make 58 million doses available this flu season.

    “Eighty-seven million [doses] were given last year, but no one really knows how many people in the high-risk group needed it,” said Michael Petruccelli, vice president of business development at Mission Valley Medical Clinic, a local provider of the vaccine.

    Petruccelli said this year is “insane because of the shortage,” compared to the previous eight years the clinic provided flu shots.

    “[We are] significantly impacted, because [if] doctors are sending in [people who are] high risk, then our patients can’t get in, so they’re mad at us,” he said.

    Part of the problem is that manufacturers cannot make additional flu vaccines because they do not have a shelf life past the season, according to Petruccelli.

    This year’s flu vaccine demand also increased due to widespread media coverage.

    “It’s in the national and local news,” Buchman said. “Any time we had the word ‘shortage,’ so many more people felt like they needed the vaccine than in a regular year.”

    Nationally, some flu vaccine distributors are offering to sell doses at 10 times the normal price to hospitals, according to media reports.

    Student Health Services is offering the vaccine to those in the high-risk group at $15 per dose, and Mission Valley Medical Clinic provides flu shots for $20, both unchanged from previous years.

    “If [Student Health Services] doesn’t give [the flu vaccine] to me for some reason, then I’ll go to my health care provider,” said Mary Palomino, a first-year student at UCSD School of Medicine.

    She may qualify for the shot because of her frequent contact with patients as a volunteer at the UCSD Free Clinic, Palomino said, predicting that her private provider would be less strict than Student Health Services to enforce CDC guidelines.

    Students who cannot receive the flu vaccine should wash their hands regularly, get lots of rest and take precautions around those who are sick, according to Buchman.

    “The healthy young adult population should realize the chance of getting complications from influenza is low,” Buchman said.

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