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Tarrant County public health reports temporary flu vaccine shortage

01/15/2013 11:25 PM

01/16/2013 5:30 PM

Editor's note: This report has been updated to reflect that, in 18 of the past 22 flu seasons, the effectiveness of vaccines has ranged from 50 percent to 72 percent. The original story incorrectly quoted Anita Kurian, chief epidemiologist for Tarrant County Public Health, as saying that the range was from 62 to 70 percent.

Health officials say they have temporarily run short of flu vaccines at Tarrant County Public Health Centers, but they expect additional supplies to be delivered Wednesday.

"There's not a shortage in other outlets. It is within the Tarrant County Public Health Center network. We are recommending people make sure and get their flu shots and reminding them there are other outlets out there. We suggest they check with their physician's office, pharmacies and supermarkets," said Vanassa Joseph, public information officer for the county health department.

So far this flu season, the public health centers have provided about 4,000 vaccinations, said Anita Kurian, chief epidemiologist for Tarrant County Public Health. An additional 200 vaccines are expected to arrive Wednesday, she said.

Currently, 11 percent of visits to Tarrant County doctor's offices and emergency rooms are flu-related, well above the peak levels of the last moderately severe flu season, in 2007-2008, when the number peaked at 6.3 percent, Kurian said.

The visits, however, are far short of those during the 2009 flu pandemic that swept across Texas and much of the country. That year, flu-related doctor's visits peaked at 16.1 percent in Tarrant County, she said.

During the 2011-2012 flu season, classified as mild, visits peaked at 3.6 percent.

Public health officials continue to urge unvaccinated people to get a flu shot as the best defense against the illness. This year's vaccine is characterized as effective in 62 percent of cases by the Centers for Disease Control, Kurian said.

"The strength of the vaccine is well-matched with the flu strains in the community. In 18 of 22 past seasons, the vaccine effectiveness ranged from 50 to 72 percent. So 62 percent is pretty good. It is still the best tool available for the flu," she said.

Joseph said people can check for vaccine availabilities at other outlets such as pharmacies and supermarkets through flu.gov. For availability at Tarrant County Public Health Centers, call the health department's flu hotline at 817-248-6299.

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981

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