U will run out of flu vaccine by Friday

After vaccinating 5,000 more people than last year, the University will give its final 840 doses in a clinic Friday.

by Geoffrey Ziezulewicz

The University will exhaust its flu vaccine supply Friday after vaccinating 13,000 people since October, University officials said.

Echoing a nationwide flu vaccine shortage, Boynton Health Service’s final flu shot clinic Friday at Coffman Union will distribute the last 840 doses available.

“We don’t want people to feel an overwhelming need to get a flu shot, but we only have so much vaccine,” said Dave Golden, Boynton public health director.

A similar flu shot event Monday vaccinated about 2,000 University students, staff and faculty. In total, Golden said, the University will have vaccinated 5,000 more people than last year.

Amid a flu season that has hit many states fast and hard, Boynton has diagnosed the first two University flu cases in the past two weeks, Golden said. He would not say if the diagnosed cases were students or faculty.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, the very young, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are especially in need of a flu shot.

Although he does not fit any of those categories, civil engineering graduate student Jesus Zepeda said he had other reasons for getting a shot, as he sat recovering from his shot Monday, eating a cookie and sipping a soda.

“I have a newborn, so I don’t want to spread it to him,” Zepeda said. “It is better to be safe than sorry.”

The shots are free for University students, staff and faculty, financed through student fees and the University’s health plan.

University vaccine supplies vary in number year to year, but in the past few years there has not been a shortage, Golden said.

“This year, we were told there wasn’t going to be a supply problem, but then the manufacturers ran out,” he said.

The University purchases its flu vaccine directly from two manufacturers, Golden said.

Flu vaccine manufacturers have already shipped all of the 83 million doses available, and it takes about four months to make more, according to the CDC. The United States has never used more than 80 million doses in one flu season.

However, the flu virus causing problems this year is a different strain than the one used to manufacture the current vaccine. As a result, it might not completely protect people from this season’s problematic flu strain, according to the CDC.

About one-fifth of U.S. residents get the flu each year, according to the CDC. About 114,000 end up hospitalized, and 36,000 of those people die.

The CDC has designated 13 states as having widespread flu outbreaks. Minnesota is not one of those states.

Despite the shortage, only the Texas Department of Health has recommended that flu shot providers save the rest of their vaccine supply for high-risk categories of people, according to the CDC.

Although many college students and faculty are not at high risk, students living in residence halls or other high-density housing might be more likely to spread flu germs.

“People packed in like that may be running a higher risk,” Golden said. He added that vaccination is sound public health practice. “A good ad campaign for this would be, ‘Do it for the herd,’ ” he said.

Boynton health workers, the elderly and people with weak immune systems will receive additional flu vaccine doses at Boynton, but Golden said that supply will be gone by the end of December.

Friday’s flu shot clinic, which begins at 1 p.m., will vaccinate as many people as possible before supplies run out.

“We made a commitment and promise to do this, so we’re going to deplete what we have before people go home (for break),” he said.