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Flu Stretches Hospitals, Drug Supplies Nationwide

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Northeast Hit Hard continued...

That offer may be good only while supplies last, however. The health department in Somerville, a Boston suburb, says it ran out of flu vaccine on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Sanofi SA, the largest flu vaccine manufacturer in the U.S., confirmed that it had sold out of four of the six formulations of Fluzone vaccine, including a dosage that’s given to children. Another manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, says it expects to have adequate doses of its vaccine for another month.

Roche says the liquid form of Tamiflu, which is mostly prescribed for children, is in short supply. Roche is sending out new supplies as they become available. Pharmacists can make a substitute by crushing tablets and mixing them with a sweet liquid, however.

Still, the FDA says there’s no reason for concern, though people may find they have to call around to find a flu shot.

“It is not unusual for there to be occasional spot shortages, especially this late in the 2012-13 vaccination campaign. The overall supply of vaccine is believed to be sufficient unless the demand is much higher than previous years,” says Rita Chappelle, a press officer in the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Get the Shot

The good news is that it’s not too late to get vaccinated.

“It does take two weeks to reach peak antibody levels, but prior to reaching that optimal level, you’re still getting some protection,” Glatter says.

So far, the vaccine appears to be a good match to the circulating strains of virus.

Glatter says it’s important to remember that even if you’ve had a flu shot, it’s not 100% effective at preventing illness.

For that reason, he says frequent and thorough hand washing is a must. After drying your hands, hit them with a good pump of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. “They should be at least 60% alcohol,” Glatter says. “Those are the most effective against viruses.”

And if you’re starting to feel bad, Glatter says, “Stay home. Don’t go to school or work.”

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