Flu Outbreak Causes Vaccine Shortage As Boston Declares Health Emergency

By Staff Reporter on January 10, 2013 12:42 PM EST

flu shot
A nationwide flu outbreak has caused Massachusetts to declare a public health emergency as pharmaceutical manufacturers warn a shortage in vaccines. (Photo: creative commons)

The state of Massachusetts declared a public health emergency when an early and severe flu season caused as many as eighteen Massachusetts residents to die from flu-related complications. In response to the outbreak, some Massachusetts hospitals are changing their visiting policies to minimize the potential exposure to flu viruses.

In fact, according to the Washington Post, the aggressive flu is actually causing challenges nationwide. Data compiled by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of December 29 report a total of 18 pediatric deaths nationwide from September 20 through December 29.

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Allentown's The Morning Call reported 22 victims have died from the flu in Pennsylvania. The newspaper also noted that emergency rooms have seen a steady rise in the number of cases, enough to cause the hospital of Cedar Crest to build a mobile emergency room outside its main facility specifically for the treatment of flu patients.

In response to the epidemic, clinics everywhere are requesting extraordinarily high demands for the flu vaccine.

Health officials assured that the year's vaccine was closely formulated to match strains of virus seen early in the season. Flu vaccines developed each year protect against three main influenza viruses that doctors believe will be most common for the upcoming season. The most common viruses today are influenza B, influenza A (H1N1) and influenza A (H3N2). One flu virus of each strand is used to produce the seasonal vaccine.

However, it's clear that the effects of the vaccinations are ineffective. More than 128 million doses of flu vaccine have already been distributed out of a total supply of 135 million doses that pharmaceuticals manufacturers have prepared for the year. The 128 million figure represents nearly 95 percent of the total inventory.

The primary strain of flu virus this season is H3N2, an influenza A virus that has been responsible for severe flu seasons in the past.

Despite the shortage, officials are urging people that have not been vaccinated to get a flu shot as soon as possible. Flu season usually peaks in January but sometimes peaks in February or later.

"I hate needles, and I got [a shot],” said Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

The Massachusetts Governor also reminds citizens to apply common sense and to wash their hands often to prevent the passing of germs.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Tamiflu to treat infants as young as two weeks old who possess flu-like symptoms. Tamiflu treatment was approved on Dec. 21. In the past, the drug was limited to treating adults and children one year old and older. When administering Tamiflu on babies less than one year old, dosage must be carefully measured based on the baby's weight.

The last time a flu outbreak occurred so early in the winter was in 2003 and 2004. In fact, past data revealed that it was one of the deadliest seasons in the U.S. for the past 35 years. More than 48,000 victims died.

Experts were quick to point out that this year's flu outbreak will not be a repeat of that winter. Health officials say vaccines are available and are closely matched to the predominant strain. What's more, the vaccination rates for the general public have risen, especially in key groups including children, pregnant women and health care workers.

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