After weeks of warnings about a flu-shot shortage, Washington state yesterday relaxed restrictions on the vaccine supply and will make shots available to everyone 50 and older...

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After weeks of warnings about a flu-shot shortage, Washington state yesterday relaxed restrictions on the vaccine supply and will make shots available to everyone 50 and older. It turns out too few of the designated high-risk patients showed up to claim even scarce supplies.


Also new to the approved list are people who live with or care for high-risk patients, such as those with chronic health conditions.


The Washington State Department of Health announced the shift yesterday at the urging of a federal advisory panel.


In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had restricted shots to those 65 or older, people with chronic medical conditions, children between 6 months old and 2 years old, pregnant women, health-care workers and people in nursing homes.


The move came after a manufacturing error cost the U.S. half its vaccine supply.














Flu-clinic information




Private physicians: Check with your own doctor first for vaccine availability.


Public Health vaccine hotline: 206-296-1100


Getaflushot.com: 888-536-6900 or www.getaflushot.com


PreventionMD: 425-739-0700, 800-346-4915 or www.PreventionMD.com

“It’s been a very difficult year for the flu vaccine,” state health-department spokesman Tim Church said. “Typically we have to go out and encourage people to get shots. This year we had to encourage people to step out of line, and now we are telling them to get back into line.”


Public Health — Seattle & King County in turn revoked a 2-month-old health order that threatened fines for health-care providers who gave the shots to people who didn’t fit the high-risk criteria.


Snohomish County Health District also will follow the state’s direction.


“Providers have been telling us this week their supplies are beginning to back up and the demand from high-risk patients was lessening,” said King County’s public-health director, Alonzo Plough. “We’re getting another 22,000 doses and we don’t want that vaccine to sit on the shelf.”


Flu-virus strains vary from year to year, so shots not used by spring will be destroyed.


Demand has been dwindling as people’s attention shifts to the holiday season, Church said.
















Who qualifies now?


Anyone 50 and older


Children ages 6 — 23 months


People with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, and nursing-home residents


Health-care workers involved in direct patient care


Out-of-home caregivers


Anyone living with an elderly or high-risk person


Long lines at clinics early on, along with a mild flu season so far, may have discouraged potential vaccine seekers.


To make sure there’s another chance for high-risk people to get the shot if they want it, King County public-health clinics will reserve their doses for high-risk patients for another week.


But doctor’s offices and other vaccine providers have the go-ahead to loosen restrictions immediately and offer the shots on a first-come, first-served basis.


Yesterday, the CDC suggested expanding the list of potential recipients after the new year. But Washington health officials moved up the date because demand here has been steadily dropping since the state was allocated 160,000 additional doses two weeks ago.


Flu season generally peaks in February, according to health officials.


Julia Sommerfeld: 206-464-2708 or jsommerfeld@seattletimes.com