Flu Vaccines Face Limits

As University health officials inoculate members of the Harvard community against the flu this month, they say they’re not expecting to encounter vaccine shortages as severe as last fall’s. Still, the University has taken measures to limit distribution of the vaccine until more is available.

Enough of the flu vaccine will be available to inoculate about 71 million people nationwide, according manufacturers cited in The New York Times. While this is fewer than the usual 80 million doses available, it’s an improvement from last year, when only 61 million inoculations could be given because of contamination at the Chiron Corporation plant in England, which manufactures about 50 percent of the United States’ flu vaccination supply.

At Harvard, University Health Services (UHS) started this year’s round of flu vaccinations last week.

“We have ordered 6,000 units,” said David S. Rosenthal, UHS Director. “We have received about 25 percent of that supply.” Rosenthal said he expects the remaining doses to arrive shortly.

Because the number of doses available to UHS is limited, Rosenthal said he is following restrictions on who can be vaccinated established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

“Only the people who are at high risk are eligible to receive the flu vaccine now,” said Rosenthal. “Currently, this is all we’re allowed to do.”

This “high risk” group includes all children aged six to 23 months, adults aged 50 or older, and pregnant women.

But, while the vaccines are far from free-flowing this year, some experts say this year’s shortage is not as critical as last year’s.

“We’re not in as tight a situation as last year,” said Dr. Sean Palfrey, who is clinical professor of pediatrics at Boston University and master of Adams House. “We probably have enough [doses] to vaccinate the people who need it most and we have a supply which should come in time to protect [people] for at least the peak flu season, if not the entire flu season.”

But Palfrey said there will not “be enough vaccines for every healthy adult” this year.

As in years past, Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) is collaborating with UHS to work toward limiting the spread of the flu. While vaccinations will not be offered in the dining halls, as they were before the shortages, HUDS officials say they hope to spread hygiene tips.

“We haven’t crafted the message at this point in time...[but] there will be an educational component, somehow,” said Jami Snyder, HUDS’ communications coordinator. “We’ll be working with UHS in any way that they think we can best serve them.”

While people who are not at high risk will have a harder time obtaining the traditional flu vaccine this year, there are alternatives—including an inoculation technique known as the “flu mist,” in which the vaccine is inhaled.

Representatives from CVS Pharmacy in Harvard Square would not comment on whether or not they would be making the flu vaccine or flu mist available this year.

And the number of flu vaccines available for this year still might increase—especially if Chiron will be able to produce vaccines again.

“That may free up and create millions of more doses,” said Rosenthal. “We’re hopeful that there will be a much wider availability of flu vaccine [this year].”