Vaccine shortage could limit visits at nursing homes

Thursday, October 14th 2004, 6:29 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ More than half of the patients in Oklahoma's nursing homes might not receive a flu vaccine, the state Health Department said Wednesday.

The elderly and residents with chronic health problems are considered high risk and are included in the ``vaccination gap'' that was identified after health care officials sifted through responses to a survey of long-term care centers.

Oklahoma, like many states has seen a shortage in the flu vaccine after British officials revoked the license of a major U.S. supplier of the vaccine last week.

Oklahoma is short more than 300,000 doses of the vaccine.

Visitation at nursing homes could be limited during the fall and winter months to protect residents from a flu outbreak, said state Epidemiologist Kristy Bradley.

Oklahoma has 23,000 nursing home residents and more than 10,000 staff members in 400 care centers.

Nursing home residents traditionally receive flu shots in mid to late October, Bradley said.

``It's pretty scary. We have serious concerns,'' said Becky Moore, executive director of the state nursing home association.

One major supplier to Oklahoma long-term care centers, Sequoyah Pharmacy Group in Oklahoma City, informed Moore that 11,000 doses of vaccine that were ordered haven't been received.

``Influenza can easily spread in a nursing home, just like a school,'' said Moore, who leads the Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers.

If an outbreak occurs Bradley said the anti-viral drugs amantadine, rimantadine and oseltamivir could be used to stop a flu outbreak in a nursing home.

The drugs wouldn't act like a flu vaccine, but could be given to nursing home residents and staff if any residents or staff member started to have symptoms.

Flu symptoms, which usually last five to seven days, include a fever of 101 degrees or higher, sore throat, nasal congestion, dry cough, burning eyes, headache, loss of appetite and weakness and aching in legs, arms and back.

Bradley said another way to halt the spread of flu in nursing homes would be to ask people not to visit if they have symptoms or ask visitors to wear surgical masks.

The state Health Department has asked healthy people not to get flu shots and the department is asking private companies that purchased the flu shot for employees to donate their supply so high risk populations, such as children, senior citizens and health care workers can be vaccinated.

``This is an excellent opportunity for Oklahoma's employers to make a difference in our state's health,'' Commissioner Dr. Michael Crutcher said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also is working with drug manufacturer Aventis Pasteur to redistribute unshipped vaccine. State health officials don't know how much of that vaccine will be shipped to Oklahoma.