WASHINGTON – Flu vaccinations will be offered at any one of a number of groceries across the state beginning Saturday, at a time when health officials have said that the currently limited supply of flu vaccine should be targeted to those most in need.
Giant Food, Costco, Shoppers Food Warehouse and others will be hosting clinics throughout the state from Saturday through mid-November.
Officials at Maxim Health Systems, which will actually dispense the shots at the groceries, said they will hand out fliers urging customers to hold off on the shots if they are not in high-risk category, such as the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and some children.
“We are following the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines,” said Stephen Wright, a Maxim spokesman. But Maxim must protect patient confidentiality and cannot turn people away if they show up, he said.
Maxim is not the only one giving out shots. Members of Congress have been able to get vaccinated for almost a month now.
But health officials, while encouraging providers to target doses, concede that they cannot control the vaccinations and are encouraging anyone who is at risk to go and get vaccinated wherever they can find it.
Health care providers around the state, meanwhile, are still waiting to receive their supply of vaccine and have had to delay annual clinics until later in the season.
North Arundel Hospital had scheduled its flu clinic for the beginning of November, for example, but announced last week that it will be postponed until December.
“We were under impression everything was fine,” said Kevin Murnane, a North Arundel spokesman. But the hospital was recently advised by its supplier, Wyeth-Ayerst, that delivery of the vaccine would be delayed until late November at the earliest.
Health care providers nationwide are grappling with similar situations, as production problems at the three remaining pharmaceutical companies that make the vaccine have led to delays.
The CDC said earlier this month there should be enough vaccine for everyone who needs it, but those who are not considered at high risk may have to wait. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene followed with a statement on Oct. 6 asking low-risk individuals to wait until supplies are replenished in December.
A draft press release from Maxim said the company had already delayed its clinics for three weeks and that limited supplies may be available in some areas.
State and federal officials said they have no control over who receives the vaccine first.
“We are not a regulatory agency,” said CDC spokeswoman Charlis Thompson.
Greg Reed of the Maryland Center for Immunization said he hoped that all vaccine providers would focus on vaccinating high-risk people now.
“I would encourage any organization private or public to focus on those at risk,” he said.
Several counties across the state have delayed their regular campaigns, including St. Mary’s, Carroll, and Montgomery counties.
“We probably won’t be getting it (vaccine) until mid- to late-October,” said Debbie Middleton of the Carroll County Health Department. She said she does not expect Carroll County to have its regular campaign until November.
But health officials are still encouraging those at high-risk not to wait for their shots.
“I hope people will get it, wherever they can find it,” said Middleton. “If they are in the category that gets it first.”