Swine flu vaccine shortage creates a dangerous waiting game




Posted on October 30, 2009 at 5:37 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 30 at 5:42 PM

SEATTLE - The swine flu infection rate is growing in King County, and has now surpassed the levels we saw in the spring. Health officials say a vaccine shortage on the national level is affecting how many people here will be protected.

Unless you're in the highest risk categories, you'll have to wait a week or two, maybe into December. That's more dangerous for some than for others.

Right now, King County has about a tenth of the amount of vaccine requested by health care providers. That means top priority goes to the highest risk groups and the lines have to be drawn somewhere..

"I couldn't believe what this lady was saying to me. I said, 'Are you sure?' I said, 'Please back check' And she said "I'm sorry," said Ira Groves. He suffers from scleroderma, which has damaged his immune system and he needs that swine flu shot.

Groves made an appointment at a Kent Fred Meyer pharmacy and even brought a note from his doctor explaining how important it was he receive the vaccination. But, they said no - he was too old by less than a year.

Groves is 65. The upper age limit is 64.

"Unfortunately, there is not enough vaccine currently in this county to get vaccine to everybody who needs it, so we are asking people at the highest risk to come to the front of the line," said Dr. David Fleming, Seattle-King County Health Director.

Fleming says 50,000 more vaccinations should be on hand by next week with more to come. As those doses come in, the requirements for who gets them will be relaxed.

For Groves and many others, it's a dangerous waiting game.

"What do I risk if I come down with it and I don't have the capacity to deal with it? Death. That's what it's all about," said Groves.

Fleming says virtually every flu case they're seeing is swine flu. He also points out that, even with the rapid spread of the disease, right now we're still just approaching normal levels for seasonal flu. But, he says it's trending upwards and he expects the infection rate to grow for at least a few more weeks.