Flu shots available in county, but call ahead SNOHOMISH COUNTY - While other states are facing flu shot shortages during the height of flu season, Washington isn’t one of them, health officials are saying.
The H3N2 flu strain has spread to 47 states and national news reports are saying some areas of the country are facing flu shot shortages.
This year’s flu season is one of the worst. As of last week, the flu has killed eight people in this state, including four in Snohomish County. Last winter’s flu season was mild.
Health officials recommend people call pharmacies ahead to make sure shots are available.
“Anecdotally, the flu vaccine is still available,” state Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer said. There may be shortages on the East Coast because the flu hit that part of the country earlier, Moyer said.
Private pharmacies and doctor offices have to play a calculated game on how many vaccines to buy.
Doctor offices and pharmacies order their flu vaccines months before flu season hits. Vaccine manufacturers start shipping out vaccines in August, Moyer said.
The Department of Health does not advise businesses on how many shots to order, he said. Their flu shot orders are a business decision, not a government decision, he said.
The trouble is flu seasons are unpredictable. It’s almost guesswork, Moyer said.
Pharmacies have no incentive to stockpile flu vaccines because a vaccine’s efficacy only lasts for the flu season it was made for. Four pharmaceutical manufacturers make new flu vaccines each year because the flu strain mutates yearly, Moyer said.
The state buys batches of children’s flu shots to send to local health agencies.
In Snohomish County, most pharmacies and doctor offices still have stocks of flu shots, Snohomish Health District spokeswoman Kristin Kinnamon said. The district called around two weeks ago to check.
Bartell Drugs, for example, made an initial order of 25,000 doses and has since ordered more, company spokesman Barry Bartlett said.
“We’re encouraging people to call ahead,” Bartlett said.
Bartell Drugs uses information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local markets to determine how many shots to order, Bartlett said.
The Everett Clinic bought more than 50,000 doses and planned to use the 5,000 doses it has left. The clinic’s suppliers are out of stock, The Everett Clinic spokeswoman April Zepeda said.
“Because of limited supply and high demand, we are holding flu shot clinics this week, but for Everett Clinic patients only,” Zepeda said last week.
Safeway recently ordered 30 more flu shots for each of its Snohomish, Monroe and Everett stores, Safeway spokeswoman Sara Osborne said.
Walmart stopped offering flu shots at its Everett and Tulalip locations Nov. 15, a spokesperson said. The company had nurses at its stores from August to November administering the shots.
The Snohomish Health District has plenty of flu shots on hand and recently received a donation of 600 shots by the largest flu vaccine maker, Sanfoi Pasteur. Since September the district has administered almost 2,000 flu shots: 731 to children and 1,234 to adults, Kinnamon said.
“Some pharmacies and providers may be out because they expect most people to get their shots in the fall,” Kinnamon said.
Moyer encourages people to get a flu shot even if the flu season may have already reached its peak. While the vaccine can take up to two weeks to become effective, people should not assume there’s no need to get a vaccine, he said.
“It’s important people take it seriously and get vaccinated,” Moyer said.