As a relentless flu season continues wreak havoc across the country, demand for the flu vaccine has hit a fever pitch, leading to spot shortages and low supplies at some Miami Valley locations.
The Clark County Combined Health District ran out of the adult flu vaccine on Friday, officials said. Meanwhile, local pharmacies and grocery stores that administer the majority of flu vaccines in the area are running low on doses as well, they said.
“We still have a limited number of doses of the pediatric vaccine, but we’re out of the adult vaccine,” said Anita Biles, a spokeswoman for the health department. “We’re getting supplies in from different locations and different suppliers, but we probably won’t have it until Wednesday.”
Biles attributed the supply interruption to a dramatic surge in the numbers of people seeking the vaccine after seeing reports that flu cases were approaching epidemic levels nationwide.
“We’ve been really busy with people coming in for the vaccine, especially since it’s been all over the news,” she said, noting the patients’ concerns were well-founded.
At least 19 flu-related hospitalizations have been reported in Clark County since the beginning of the flu season last October. None were reported last year during the same period.
The Butler County Health Department reported a similar trend in flu-related hospitalizations, which have climbed to 41 so far this year, compared to zero last year, said spokeswoman Jenny Baylor.
The health department has “plenty” of doses of the flu vaccine, Baylor said, but she has heard reports that some retail locations in the area running low.
Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Tessie Pollock confirmed those reports without giving names, but said it’s not uncommon for drugstores and other retail outlets to run low on vaccine in the middle of the flu season.
“I wouldn’t call it a shortage,” she said. “That implies it isn’t there. It’s there, it just may not be in the building you went too.”
The state has adequate supplies of flu vaccine to meet demand, Pollock said, it just may be harder to find at some locations than others. She advises people to call ahead to make sure the store or health department they visit for a flu shot has the vaccine. Also, she pointed to a national website that lists locations by zip code that have the vaccine: flushot.healthmap.org
While no flu vaccine is 100 percent effective, she said, it’s the best protection against the flu, especially in moderate to severe seasons like the one that’s shaping up now.
Ohio flu-related hospitalizations jumped nearly 90 percent in the first week of January, compared to the previous week. And at least two people, including a child, have died from flu-related complications in recent days, according to state and local health departments.
However, overall flu activity — including visits to emergency rooms — declined last week for the first time in two months, offering at least a temporary respite.
Ohio is among 47 states where the flu is considered “widespread,” indicating confirmed cases and increases in flu-like illness in at least half the regions in the state.
But the portion of emergency room visits in which patients exhibited symptoms, such as general weakness, headache and chills, declined last week by 16 percent, according to the latest flu-activity report from the Ohio Health Department.
Still, it’s too soon to say whether the flu season has peaked, according to Dr. Mary DiOrio, state epidemiologist.
“We’re still in the midst of this flu season, so it’s really too early to know exactly what our peak is or will be,” she said, noting this flu season hit earlier and harder than in previous years.
There have been 1,922 flu-related hospitalizations in Ohio since the beginning of the flu season. That includes 695 reported last week - up from 368 in the previous week.
By comparison, there were less than 300 hospitalizations in Ohio in the previous two seasons combined.
Hospitalizations were concentrated mainly in the East Central and Northeast regions of the state, which accounted for 231 and 192 hospitalizations, respectively, the state health department reported.
Thirty seven hospitalizations were reported in Southwest Ohio, including 16 in Montgomery County, up from 14 in the previous week.
“We’re holding steady here,” said Bill Wharton, a spokesman for Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County. “Hospitalizations are up slightly, but overall cases are down, and we have plenty of vaccine.”
Still, the flu season has been earmarked by tragedy in the local area.
A 22-year-old Greene County woman died earlier this week at Kettering Medical Center of flu-related complications, and the state health department Friday confirmed the first flu-related child death in the state, although officials declined to release further details. The child was not from southwest Ohio.
The Ohio death was one of two deaths in kids from flu or pneumonia last week, bringing the total number of flu-related kids’ deaths to 20 so far this flu season, according to a separate report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.