High demand for vaccines in busy flu season

Public health officials are advising the public to get vaccinated against influenza.

Cayman’s flu longer-than-usual season rages on, but a larger-than-usual stock of vaccines and medication ordered by public health officials last year means doses are still available.

Chief source of inoculations, the Health Services Authority, said it has ordered nearly 17 percent more doses this year than previously, anticipating a more aggressive season, but that supplies remained secure for now.

“Demand has been higher this year than in previous ones,” said Director of Primary Health Care Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez. “This year is a busier flu season than previous years and we are still seeing considerable cases of flu-like illnesses.”

In normal years, he said, Health Services Authority clinics administer between 2,500 doses and 2,800 doses, but already this year, staff have dispensed between 2,800 doses and 2,900 doses.

“We usually order 3,000 vaccines,” Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said, but “this year we ordered 3,500 vaccines.”

The HSA orders both the flu vaccine and the antiviral Tamiflu treatment from Washington, D.C.’s Pan American Health Organization, part of the U.N.’s World Health Organization, “to improve health and living standards of the people of the Americas.”

PAHO defines flu as “an acute respiratory infection caused by … viruses which circulate in all parts of the world,” and which “spreads easily from person to person,” according to the organization’s website.

The virus has four types; the first two, A and B, cause seasonal epidemics, while C causes only “mild infections and does not present public health importance,” and D is limited to cattle.

Illnesses can range from mild to severe, while hospitalization and death occur mainly among high-risk groups, which include pregnant women, children under 5, the elderly and individuals with chronic medical conditions.

PAHO estimates that annual epidemics cause between 3 million and 5 million cases of severe illness, and between 290,000 and 650,000 deaths.

The organization recommends annual vaccinations as the best way to prevent the disease, and while Dr. Williams-Rodriguez calls this season “more active,” he said, “We have the flu vaccine and antiviral [Tamiflu] treatment available.

“The initial supply of the flu vaccine came in October 2017,” he said, and “we currently have sufficient supplies and the vaccine is available at the district health centers, including the General Practice clinic at [Cayman Islands] Hospital, Faith Hospital and Little Cayman clinic.”

Delivery of the medicine for PAHO, he said, had initially been “slightly delayed,” so “we ordered 500 doses from a different provider in order to have the vaccines available to the public at the beginning of the flu season.”

Among alternative vaccine suppliers to PAHO is the privately owned, Pittsburgh-based Mylan pharmaceutical company, where Cayman’s CTMH Doctors Hospital buys its flu medicines.

The hospital’s Concierge Officer and Registered Nurse Jennifer Williams said the longer season and greater demand for vaccinations meant the hospital had “ordered more vaccines than we have in the past,” saying it was “an important component of protection not only for the individual, but for the community as well.”

“The vaccines are pre-ordered in June/July each year. During this time, there are only so many made globally and they are delivered in September/October.”

The hospital, she said, “still has vaccines available,” but declined to say how many inoculations had been administered or how many remained.

Health City PR and Communication Specialist for Marketing Christina Trumbach said Health City “is not a part of the flu-shot program that is run through the HSA Public Health Department, so this would not affect us.

“Nor are we aware of a flu-shot shortage,” she said. “The only flu shots we administer are for Health City staff and for any patients who come in to specifically request a flu shot or who are considered to be at high risk.”

She did not indicate how many inoculations Health City had provided or the extent of any vaccine inventory.

Flu season, said Dr. Williams-Rodriguez, traditionally runs from October to March, peaking between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15. He said the longer-than-normal season this year, meant “we are still at the peak of the flu season.”

More medicine would be ordered if needed, but for now “vaccines are still available and vaccination is ongoing.”

Ms. Williams echoed Dr. Williams-Rodriguez, saying Doctors Hospital would carefully track “when there is an increase in the demand,” although she was unsure whether a second batch of Mylan vaccine would be available.

In the meantime, however, she said, “we do still have some vaccines left. Please encourage colleagues, friends and community to get vaccinated.”

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