Pharmacies can't keep up with demand for flu shots

8:17 AM, Jan 11, 2013   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) --  It's now been more than a month since the seasonal flu swept into Michigan, killing four people, and affecting thousands more.  Now, many people want to get the vaccine and pharmacies can't keep up with demand.

ABC News reports that 95 percent of the flu vaccine that drug manufacturers planned to make for the season has already been distributed.

These are the two words you've heard repeatedly in the last three weeks: "Get vaccinated," said Lisa LaPlante, spokesperson for the Kent County Health Department.

That's advice people are following and area pharmacies cannot keep up with demand.

"It's been busier in the last two days than it had been from October through December," said Dave Miller, pharmacist at Keystone Pharmacy in Grand Rapids. "I have seven doses left."

When WZZM 13 checked last Friday, dozens of pharmacies, including some Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and CVS pharmacy locations reported they had run out, but would have new supplies early this week.

We checked back in with multiple stores on Thursday. One CVS pharmacy still hadn't received a new shipment and some of the new supplies are already gone at the Walgreens on Plainfield and at the Alpine location in Walker.  A pharmacy employee at the Alpine location told us they received 40 new shots on Wednesday and within 24 hours the shots were gone.

Over at the Kent County Health Department, vaccines never run out, but good luck getting an appointment for a shot quickly.

"Interestingly, we opened approximately 80 appointments for flu vaccinations for next week at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, and this afternoon, they were completely booked," said LaPlante.

Kent County Health Department has already given out more than 3,000 flu vaccinations so far this season, that being September - December 2012.  Last year, the department provided 4,670 vaccinations. LaPlante expects they'll surpass that number this year. The season runs through June 1.  Right now, they're booking vaccinations into late January. Doctor's clinics can also be hard to get into.

So where can you get a vaccination quickly?

The state doesn't track the number of places that give flu shots; the federal government regulates those numbers.

However, the website Flu Vaccine Finder allows you to plug in your zip code and find pharmacies near you that offer flu shots and/or mists. In the Grand Rapids area, there are 50.

Based on the fact it's so hard to find a vaccine, it's best to call ahead.

On the plus side, reports of visits to local emergency rooms for flu-like symptoms are dropping at both Saint Mary's Health Care and at Metro Hospital. Numbers were not immediately available from Spectrum Health.

Last Friday, 34 percent of ER visits at Saint Mary's were for flu-like symptoms, according to hospital spokeswoman Katie Halloran.  Tuesday, the visits dropped to 17 percent.

At Metro Hospital, visits dropped from 25 percent to 10 percent over a similar time period, according to hospital spokesperson Ellen Bristol

But hospital representatives fully expect the numbers to rise again. One, the flu goes through seasonal peaks, and two, students are back in school. LaPlante says depending on how cautious schools and students are being about sanitation, cases could pick up in the next week or two.

If you find your pharmacy is out of the vaccine for a few days, or it takes awhile to get into your county health department for an appointment, the best method is prevention.

Don't touch your face with your hands, wash your hands regularly, and stay away from people with the flu.






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