Nationwide flu vaccine shortage confirmed

2010-04-12 00:00

THOSE hoping to be vaccinated to kick the winter flu and enjoy a healthy World Cup season will need to move fast, as a nationwide shortage of southern hemisphere flu shots has been confirmed.

According to Netcare Travel Clinic’s Dr Pete Vincent, stocks are “disappearing fast”, and the sale of vaccines to corporate clients has been limited in order to ensure sufficient supply for the public.

“The World Cup runs over the middle of our flu season and we are concerned about the possibility of a flu outbreak and particularly of swine flu,” he said.

Although he said swine flu, or the H1N1 virus, was showing reduced activity in the northern hemisphere, he warned that South Africans should be particularly vigilant of its return, considering it was responsible for 14 000 deaths globally.

According to Vincent, the vaccine contains strains of the three most common forms of flu doing the rounds, including the H1N1 strain.

“Check to see whether the flu vaccine you are having is the southern hemisphere one containing all three 2010 strains, especially if you are at risk.

“Some outlets are selling vaccines that contain only protection against the H1N1 virus. This offers less comprehensive protection for those at risk ,” he said.

While he warned that the vaccine does not render the recipient completely immune to the virus (as it mutates and appears in different forms), he said it offers a good measure of protection. “A substantial proportion of the population catches one form of flu or another, causing severe losses in manpower and school hours.

“Influenza can result in dangerous health complications in susceptible individuals such as pneumonia, and even deaths. Studies have shown that this burden is greatly reduced by the flu vaccine.”

A pharmacy popular for administering flu vaccinations said it is unable to comment on the shortage, but does have a “a few vaccines left”.

Vincent recommended calling clinics to check availability before making the trip.

He said government was in the process of making H1N1 vaccinations available to HIV/Aids patients.

Flu vaccines are safe for those with weakened immune systems, as they are made up of dead viruses which the body begins to produce antibodies for.

Since antibodies take some time to reach full efficacy, the best time to have a vaccine is in April.

• Those who are 65 years of age and older (flu is easily spread among the inhabitants of retirement homes).

• Those who have respiratory problems such as asthma and emphysema.

• Those who have chronic conditions such as heart or kidney failure, or diabetes.

• Those who have compromised immune systems such as HIV-positive individuals, or those undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancer.

• Women who are in their second or third trimester of pregnancy.

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