Health Departments Still Able to Offer Flu Shots

Pharmacies Having Trouble Keeping Them in Stock Due to Demand
Jan 16, 2013

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Way back in early December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and The SandPaper were already saying that the 2012-13 influenza season promised to be one of the worst in years.

There were two reasons for the concern: timing and virulence.

The annual flu season in the United States typically runs from October through May. Cases normally peak, however, in January and February. This year, though, the CDC was reporting “high activity,” its highest classification level, in six southern states by the end of November.

Meanwhile, the CDC had discovered that a particularly nasty strain of influenza, Type A H3N2, was predominant this season. The Type A H3N2 strain tends to cause more symptoms and complications than other common strains, so much so that in years in which it is the predominate strain, the national death count rises from about 24,000 to approximately 36,000.

The CDC and SandPaper predictions have proven to be accurate.

By the week ending on Jan. 5, the CDC reported that 47 states were dealing with widespread influenza outbreaks. That was up from 41 for the week ending on Dec. 29 and from 31 the week before that. During that same week ending on Jan. 5, the CDC reported, New Jersey hospitals saw more than twice as many emergency room visits caused by flu-like symptoms than for the same time period the year before. On Monday, Jan. 14, physicians told the New Jersey Assembly Health Committee that emergency rooms throughout the state were packed with patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

Southern Ocean County has not escaped. Southern Ocean Medical Center Senior Manager of Operations Michelle Morrison said the hospital has been busy for more than a week dealing with respiratory complaints.

“We opened one of our medical/surgical units for a week or so to handle the overflow,” said Morrison. “We closed it yesterday, but we are getting ready to open it again.”

The unit in question, explained Morrison, has more than 20 beds, although the Manahawkin hospital was trying to limit the number of patients occupying it to between a dozen and 15.

Typically, said SOMC spokeswoman Joyce McFadden, the unit is opened only during the summer, when Southern Ocean County’s population swells due to an influx of seasonal residents and visitors.

Flu-like symptoms, said Morrison, an RN, do not necessarily mean a patient has the flu. Only about 22 percent of the patients recently tested for influenza at the hospital actually had the flu. There were also, she said, plenty of cases of bronchitis, pneumonia and common colds thrown into the mix. The hospital always sees an uptick in respiratory complaints during the winter, she added.

Finding a Shot

Is Hit or Miss

Public health officials and physicians are telling people it still isn’t too late to get a flu shot. But with the national media reporting mounting shortages of the vaccine caused by the uptick in demand due to the severity of the season, is getting a shot still possible?

Yes, but you might want to let your fingers do the walking before you hop into your vehicle and visit your local pharmacy.

The New Jersey Department of Health has an online Flu Vaccine Finder located at state.nj.us/health/flu/findflueshot.shtml in which you simply type in your ZIP Code to find pharmacies near you that are providing the vaccinations. There are several located in Southern Ocean County, complete with addresses and phone numbers. But the site urges you to call before setting out, and for good reason.

The SandPaper called several pharmacies and could find none that had vaccinations in stock. However, a few said, “We expect a shipment tomorrow.” So making some calls will save you time.

Luckily, the Long Beach Island Health Department, temporarily located – due to Superstorm Sandy – on the second floor of the Long Beach Township municipal building, located at 6805 Long Beach Blvd. in Brant Beach, had plenty of vaccine available as of Tuesday afternoon.

“We just got a new shipment in yesterday,” said the department’s Dan Krupinski, who added shots were being given between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every weekday.

One does not have to be a LBI resident to receive a shot from the LBIHD. Given this publicity, however, you may want to call 609-361-6673 before heading off.

The Ocean County Health Department is also offering shots to Southern Ocean County residents at two clinics scheduled for this week at its southern site, located at 333 Haywood Rd. in Manahawkin. The first is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 16, while the second is set for 10 a.m. to noon on Friday, Jan. 18.

— Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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