Study Shows Consumers Fear Vaccine Shortage This Flu Season
Despite recent reassurances from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34 percent of Americans believe there will be an influenza vaccine shortage this year, according to a national survey by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said that they or their family members have already been inoculated or plan to get a flu shot this year, up from 50 percent who tried to get the vaccination last year.
"These numbers reveal a rather high level of anxiety about the availability of influenza vaccine this year," said ASHP President Steven L. Sheaffer, Pharm.D., FASHP, adding that drug manufacturers predict an adequate supply for the balance of the year.
"Consumers who are concerned about a shortage are unfortunately also being deluged with a steady stream of media reports about a relatively small number of anthrax infections on the East Coast," he added. "The similarity between flu and anthrax symptoms only confuses matters further."
The CDC warns against relying on the flu vaccine as a way to avoid confusing flu symptoms with suspected anthrax infection. This is because the vaccine only treats a limited number of influenza viruses, and it does not protect against other common infections that may have symptoms similar to those of an anthrax infection. Dr. Sheaffer urged consumers who have questions about their level of risk or their need for a flu shot to talk to their doctor or pharmacist.
"The high profile of recent anthrax news reports means that media coverage of influenza, which is a widespread public health concern, has unfortunately been minimized," said ASHP Executive Vice President and CEO Henri R. Manasse, Jr., Ph.D., Sc.D., noting that 20,000 Americans die of influenza complications annually. "Consumers need to understand their level of risk, and high-risk groups should be first in line to receive a vaccination."
According to public health officials, there will be no shortage of the influenza vaccine this year. The vaccine is distributed in phases that are related to manufacturing capacity. Fifty-six percent of the total supply was available in October. Thirty-one percent will be delivered in November, and 13 percent will be delivered in December.
ASHPs survey showed that 32 percent of people believed they or a family member were at high risk. Most of these people cited age, chronic illness, weak immune system and working in a health care facility as risk factors. Sixty-seven percent of survey participants believe they or immediate family members are not at high risk.
According to the survey, 95 percent of respondents would be willing to wait to get vaccinated so that those at a higher risk could be vaccinated first.
According to the CDC, high-risk groups include individuals age 50 years or older and people with chronic diseases of the heart, lung or kidneys, diabetes, immunosuppression, or severe forms of anemia. Also defined as high risk are:
- Residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities,
- Health care personnel and volunteers who work or live with high-risk patients, and
- Women more than three months pregnant during the flu season.
Dr. Sheaffer recommends that people who are not at high risk wait until December to receive their flu shot to help ensure adequate opportunities for high-risk patients to get their vaccine.
The CDC notes that, in a typical year, one out of 10 Americans comes down with the flu. About 110,000, mostly elderly, end up in the hospital and about 20,000 die. Studies have shown that among the elderly, vaccination cuts the chance of hospitalization by at least 50 percent and the chance of death by 80 percent. Studies of healthy young adults have shown the influenza vaccine to be 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing illness.
ASHP interviewed by phone 1,002 adults nationwide between October 19 and 23, 2001. The data were weighted to reflect the demographic make-up of the adult U.S. population. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
ASHP is the 31,000-member national professional association that represents pharmacists who practice in hospitals, health maintenance organizations, long-term care facilities, home care and other components of health care systems. ASHP, which has a long history of medication error prevention efforts, believes that the mission of pharmacists is to help people make the best use of medicines. Assisting pharmacists in fulfilling this mission is ASHPs primary objective. The Society has extensive publishing and educational programs designed to help members improve their delivery of pharmaceutical care, and it is the national accrediting organization for pharmacy residency and pharmacy technician training programs. For more information, visit www.ashp.org or www.safemedication.com.