On Sept. 24, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) issued an alert warning health care providers that shipments of seasonal flu vaccine are likely to arrive more slowly than expected. According to DPH, these delays are due primarily to "prioritization of H1N1 vaccine." The same three manufacturers are producing both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccine, and the push to manufacture huge quantities of H1N1 vaccine quickly has left them with less capacity to produce seasonal flu vaccine.
"We have enough vaccine for the student clinic and for the appointments we've scheduled so far," Ruzycki says. "But we are keeping the delivery schedule in mind as we continue to book individual appointments for flu shots and as we begin planning clinics at the graduate student dorms."
While the delivery delays mean some MIT Medical patients won't be able to get their seasonal flu vaccinations until the end of October, that timing is fine from a public health standpoint, says Chief of Medicine Howard Heller, M.D., M.P.H., "We don't usually see a rise in seasonal flu cases until November, and the incidence doesn't normally peak until January or later," he notes. "In fact, most years we don't even start vaccinating for seasonal flu until the middle of October."
The earlier start this fall was for logistical reasons, Heller explains. "With people needing two vaccines this year-one for seasonal flu and one for H1N1 influenza-it made sense to get the seasonal flu vaccine out of the way before November, when the H1N1 vaccine is projected to arrive."
Although adhering to this schedule will be more difficult now, Heller is optimistic that most MIT Medical patients who want a seasonal flu vaccine will be able to get one by the time MIT begins administering H1N1 vaccines. And, he adds, many people may be able to get a seasonal flu vaccine at a community clinic.
MIT Medical patients may call 617-253-4865 to make an appointment for a seasonal flu vaccination. In addition, health departments in both Cambridge and Boston are providing free seasonal flu clinics. Residents of other communities can locate local flu clinics through MassPRO's Public Flu Clinic Finder. The H1N1 vaccine will be available some time in November and will be offered free of charge to everyone in the MIT community, beginning with government-mandated priority groups.