CHAINS ARE WARNED FLU VACCINES WILL BE DELAYED

NEW YORK -- The many supermarket chains that will administer shots for the approaching flu season, which begins in October, are being advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, to delay such initiatives."Health care providers, health organizations, commercial companies -- any organization planning an organized, mass influenza vaccine campaign for 2000 to 2001 -- should delay

NEW YORK -- The many supermarket chains that will administer shots for the approaching flu season, which begins in October, are being advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, to delay such initiatives.

"Health care providers, health organizations, commercial companies -- any organization planning an organized, mass influenza vaccine campaign for 2000 to 2001 -- should delay that program until early to mid-November," said CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben.

In making the advisory, the CDC cited anticipated delays in the availability of vaccines or outright shortages due to the difficulty in producing this year's particular flu strain. Vaccine manufacturers are reportedly experiencing lower than expected yields. A CDC projection put the decrease in the number of available doses compared with last year at as much as 50%.

The agency recommended treating high-risk patients during the typical period when immunization campaigns begin, about mid-October, with more widespread vaccination following that. During October, "providers should focus primarily on vaccinating people between the ages of 50 and 64 with high-risk conditions," Harben said.

Nevertheless, some retailers with committed advertising dollars and promotional time tables are going to take a chance and proceed. Those who spoke to SN were partnering or contracting with an outside health care organization to provide the shots.

With hopes that vaccines would be available by mid-October, Joe Jeffries, pharmacy director at Riesbeck Food Markets, Clairsville, Ohio, said, "We're still planning to start at least by mid-October.

"It's odd that they haven't come up with the formulas; they seem to have come up with them every other year," he added.

A pharmacy director with one Arizona-based retailer, who chose to remain anonymous, said her chain's vaccination program would be launched later this year as opposed to previous years.

"Usually we start preparing in August and aligning dates for October," she said. "With the shortages, we can't go ahead and put those in print. I think we'll see the number of people we bring into the store drop."

The Arizona-based retailer surmised that demand created by word of a shortage might cause immunization providers to scurry for vials, thus driving up the price and allowing vaccine manufacturers to capitalize. "Then, come October/November, the price per vial drops drastically," she said.

Despite this view, the CDC has advised supermarkets and their organizations conducting programs "not to place duplicate orders with multiple companies," said Harben.