Physician’s Office Restricting Flu Vaccine, for Now

Posted October 17, 2005 at 6:23pm

The Attending Physician’s office will continue restricting flu vaccinations on Capitol Hill to “highest risk” individuals through Oct. 24, abiding by guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But a spokesman for the office said that Attending Physician John Eisold hopes to be able to open vaccinations to as many people as possible once restrictions are lifted and sufficient supplies are available.

During last year’s nationwide shortage — which was caused by the contamination of millions of flu vaccines created by Chiron Corp., an American company that manufactures about half of the U.S. vaccine supply — the Attending Physician’s office distributed about 3,000 vaccinations. But Eisold’s distribution plan was criticized by some lawmakers who thought that younger and healthier Members and their staffs were able to get vaccines at a time when the general public faced short supplies.

Currently, the Attending Physician’s office has a limited supply of seasonal flu vaccines because it has received only a portion of its requested number of shots, the spokesman said.

“The CDC, along with drug manufacturers, don’t want to have it all out at once,” he explained. “We’re supposed to get additional supplies at the end of October.”

The Attending Physician’s office already has distributed about 800 vaccines this year.

“We should have enough until our next supply,” he said.

Interest in vaccinations appears to be high this year, not just because of last year’s shortages, but also because a serious strain of avian flu has recently spread from Asia to Europe, the spokesman said, attracting significant media attention for its potential to create a global pandemic. However, the seasonal flu shots available this fall and winter do not protect against it.

Influenza vaccine distribution delays and supply shortages have hampered three of the past five flu seasons in the United States. In response, the CDC has continued to prioritize vaccinations.

This year, the CDC has recommended that flu vaccinations be limited to persons 65 or older, pregnant women, young children and a few other “priority” groups through Oct. 24.

“Because of the limited amount that we have right now, we’ve also restricted it to staffers, Members, Capitol Police and people that have Congressional ID cards. In past years we would give it out to anyone who came to the Capitol,” the spokesman said. “Once we get our next shipment, we hope to open it up to everyone.”

During the 2003-04 flu season, the office distributed approximately 8,000 flu shots. The spokesman said the office hopes to be able to meet its 2003-04 distribution levels this year.

“We try to encourage people when they’re eligible to get it,” the spokesman said. “Up here it’s a melting pot. … If you get something you can pass it real quickly.”

The spokesman said Eisold is continuing to work with the CDC and other disease control agencies to monitor the threat of avian flu and will use the office’s Web site to post information for Congressional staffers and Members as it becomes available.

On another front, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) has continued to express concern that flu vaccines used in this country include the mercury-based preservative Thimerosal, which some say can cause neurological disorders.