"Waiting for Flu Shots" a "Real Reality Show"

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. and Frederick Hecht, M.D.

October 12, 2004 -- It is now October and in all likelihood, the flu season is not far off. Last week the British government shut down a vaccine plant in Liverpool (owned by the American company Chiron) that was scheduled to produce nearly half of the flu vaccine needed in the US. This plant closure will therefore cause a major flu vaccine shortage. There are simply not enough doses of flu vaccine available this year for everyone who should be inoculated.

The FDA claims that they did not know the extent of the production problems at Chiron and that they were completely surprised when the plant was shut down. As of now, it is not clear as to who knew what or when. There seems to be a lot of fingerpointing going on. What is clear is that the other flu vaccine producer (Aventis Pasteur) can only produce 55 million doses this year. This amount of vaccine will be rationed with priority being given to those at high risk, including the elderly and small children.

Firsthand Account: We called our respective physicians to find out about flu shots and were told that they were not expecting to receive any vaccine this year. We were both advised to "get a flu shot whenever we could." We then thought about a supermarket or drug store. Many have programs provided every fall by Maxim Health Systems and we had heard that Maxim had received the Aventis Pasteur flu vaccine.

Since our local supermarket was offering flu shots today from 10 AM to 2 PM, we arrived at the store early (shortly after 9 AM). There was already a very long line of people waiting. As the minutes ticked by, the line got longer and longer, winding in and out of the cash register lanes. At about 9:45 AM, everyone was given a form listing who qualified as "a high-risk individual" because only those people could receive the flu vaccine.