National Shortage of Flu Vaccines Hits WCU

As temperatures in the region begin to drop, so do the body’s defenses against illness. Many try to avoid becoming sufferers by getting inoculated, especially against the flu. However, there is a critical shortage of the flu vaccine nationwide.

WCU’s Health Services gave out two shipments of the vaccines for $5 per vaccine to students, faculty, and staff before the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Debbie Beck, director of health services.

The first shipment contained 70 vaccines, which were completely gone after two days, and the second shipment of 80 vaccines was given out within three days.

Beck said that students in the residence halls were notified several days in advance of the shipment of the flu shots because Health Services felt that resident students, who live in close quarters where germs spread quickly, are more at risk for contracting the flu.

Some faculty and staff received the vaccinations, but more priority was given to students, according to Beck. Less than half of those who received the shots were faculty or staff members.

The national shortage of flu vaccinations was triggered when the Food and Drug Administration rejected a large batch of the inoculations because they felt that the vaccine did not cover all of the flu strains that it should have been able to cover, said Beck.

Each year, the flu shot is updated to be able to provide immunity against the strains that are predicted to dominate that season. “Every year, the flu shot that you get is a little bit different from the year before,” said Beck.

The Jackson County Department of Public Health has given out 2200 flu shots so far this fall on a first-come, first-serve basis and is not planning to receive any more shipments of the vaccine this season.

The flu season of fall 1998 was the worst in recent history, according to Beck, with more than 80 cases diagnosed at WCU.

In the fall of 1999, Health Services gave out 700 flu shots within the university community, and there were only about a half dozen cases of the flu diagnosed, said Beck.

So far this fall, there has been one case of the flu diagnosed, in Macon County, according to Beck.

Beck advised students to be careful about hygiene in order to prevent the flu. “Since there’s not a lot of flu shots available, everybody that lives in close quarters and attends classes should wash their hands, and not drink after people,” said Beck.