Flu vaccine still available but harder to find

Yes, you still can get a flu shot in Kansas City, but you may have to hunt around a bit.

“From what we understand, there are some locations running out,” said Jeff Hershberger of the Kansas City Health Department. “It may not be at the first place people look.”

Hershberger said the Health Department has been getting new business lately from people who have found their drugstores are out of the vaccine. The Health Department still has shots available.

Recent news reports of people with flu symptoms crowding hospital emergency rooms nationwide has spiked demand for vaccine. Reports of drugstores and doctors’ offices running out of shots stretch from California to New York.

“We’re hearing about spot shortages around the country,” said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in Atlanta. “People may have to look around to find it.”

Vaccine manufacturers made about 135 million doses for this season, according to the CDC. About 128 million doses have been distributed.

“There’s not a whole lot of vaccine left out there,” Skinner said. “I can’t say whether we’ll be able to meet the demand.”

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment ran out of flu vaccine for the general public on Friday. It is trying to order more.

“The last two weeks, we had many, many people, all kinds of people, asking for it,” said Nancy Tausz, the department’s disease containment director.

When the department asked for extra flu shots on Monday, its usual distributor said it was out. A call to a manufacturer yielded the name of another distributor and a warning that the flu vaccine would be a “hard, hard find,” Tausz said. “We’re not having a lot of luck.”

In the meantime, the Johnson County health department is referring people to Shawnee Mission Urgent Care, a clinic in Lenexa operated by Shawnee Mission Medical Center. Although demand in the last week has been running about three time higher than usual, the clinic still has vaccine available for everyone age 36 months and older, a hospital spokesman said.

The flu is nasty this year, but it often is. Last year, the flu hit unusually late in the season and was relatively mild. This time, the flu arrived early and has been peaking, about a month earlier than usual.

The three strains of flu virus covered by this season’s vaccine account for about 90 percent of the flu that is circulating, according to the CDC. The CDC estimates that people who have been vaccinated are 62 percent less likely to need to go to the doctor to get treated for flu.

CVS and Walgreens, two giant drugstore chains that administer millions of flu shots each year, said Monday that an unprecedented demand for vaccine has led to shortages at some stores. Both chains said they would resupply their pharmacies.

Thursday was Walgreens’ busiest day for shots this flu season, the company said, and was more typical of what the stores see during the peak time for shots in October.

Healthy Solutions, an Overland Park-based company that conducts flu vaccination clinics at workplaces, schools, churches and other venues, has finished its mass clinics for the season but still offers shots to the public by appointment.

Many employers have called recently to arrange shots for workers who missed the clinics, Healthy Solutions co-owner Rick Murphy said. Mothers whose pediatricians have run out of vaccine also are asking for shots.

There are some signs in the national and local data to suggest that flu cases have begun to decline in the last few weeks. And just in time.

“I’m hearing that (vaccine) manufacturers are gearing up for next year,” said Skinner of the CDC.

Related stories from Kansas City Star