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Kaiser has no flu shots
By Adrienne Sanders Of The Examiner
As health-conscious San Franciscans begin to line up for their annual flu shots, Kaiser, the city's largest distributor of the vaccine, has none to give.
Don't blame us, say Kaiser officials, we're still waiting for the vaccine.
The vaccine manufacturer, Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, is running behind schedule and has been tightlipped with Kaiser, as well as with city health officials.
Wyeth -- along with the state's supplier, Aventis Pasteur -- also was late with delivery last year. At the time, the companies said the vaccine strain was difficult to grow.
Kaiser supplies flu shots to one-third to one-half of Northern California -- and in about the same proportion to San Francisco -- said Roger Baxter, company flu program chief.
This year, Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus said, the same reason accounts, in part, for the delay.
"It's unclear what the problem is," said Baxter. "The company hasn't been forthcoming with a lot of information. They're under the watchful eye of the FDA."
"We had to make some changes in response to observation," said Petkus, referring to oversight by the Federal Drug Administration.
Wyeth was fined $30 million by the FDA last year for quality-control issues and for failing to abide by good manufacturing practices.
Kaiser was expecting to have 50 percent of the supply for Northern California, or 425,000 doses, by the end of this month. Now it may be lucky to see 10 percent in the same time frame.
Kaiser expected to open all its flu clinics by early November. Now it will delay opening them until late November. Much of the first 10 percent of supply will go to inoculate staff members who have direct patient contact, Baxter said.
Though Wyeth said there is no need to worry, Baxter isn't convinced. "Last year we were told there were no problems up until the last minute," he said.
In order to manage the anticipated delays, Kaiser will provide shots to high-risk groups first and the general public later. Unless you are 65 or older, have a chronic disease or care for people who do, residents must wait until Nov. 6 to get flu shots. (The shots are traditionally offered on a first-come, first-served basis.) The City will also open clinics for the general public on Nov. 6.
As long as most people get them by the end of November, they'll be OK, Baxter said. But getting one in December also is advisable because California usually has a late season, beginning in January.
"A lot of people think flu season is over so they don't get the vaccine," said Baxter, "That's the dangerous part of the delay."
Flu season typically begins in mid-December, peaks in January and can extend to spring. The vaccine takes two weeks to protect the body against the influenza virus.
Last year's delays became a shortage -- by the time the vaccine arrived in mid-December flu season was already underway.
Less than 20 percent of the 850,000 vaccine doses Kaiser ordered had been shipped by the end of October 2000.
This year, Kaiser members will be kept informed through a 24-hour flu hotline, newsletters, posters and banners at their centers.
Those considered to be high-risk will get notes in the mail and telephone reminders to come in for flu shots.
Kaiser tried to sign on with Aventis, the country's largest flu vaccine maker, earlier this year, but Aventis rejected the request because they were sold out, Baxter said.
Several city health officials and Kaiser directors, confused about Wyeth's current delays and frustrated by the company's lack of communication, asked Tthe Examiner for information on the delays.
"There's a lot of ambiguity coming from Wyeth," said Natalie Smith, head of California's state National Immunization Program. "I don't know why people aren't protesting."
E-mail Adrienne Sanders at email@example.com
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 22, 2001
Kaiser is *always* late with flu vaccine. I belong to Kaiser Mid Atlantic and always pay to get my shot somewhere else. Got mine the other day at a local Urgent Care center. They said they had theirs in August. They also said they had done 8 swabs for antrax that day. They said the people they checked had legitimate exposure threat.
-- Sally Strackbein (Sally@CheapSpeakers.com), October 23, 2001.