A few weeks before the usual peak season for the flu in the Northwest, state officials have relaxed their previously tight recommendations for the distribution of this year’s influenza vaccination.
But the vaccine won’t be available at the Spokane Regional Health District, at least for now. The district gave out the last of its flu shots on Friday, said Jennifer Ekstrom, a district communications specialist.
The Washington Department of Health suggested on Thursday that the vaccine should be available to anyone older than 6 months. State Health Secretary Mary Selecky decided to release the new recommendations, which are not binding, to help ensure that flu vaccinations don’t go to waste, said department spokesman Tim Church. Health officials in counties across the state had been reporting a great variety of supply and demand.
It takes about two weeks from the time someone is inoculated for the shot to provide protection against the virus.
“Certainly people would want to get vaccinated soon if they want to be vaccinated,” Church said. “People can be vaccinated through January, and still have it be valuable.”
Church said folks who still want to be vaccinated should contact their health care providers.
Washington usually experiences a peak in flu cases in February or March.
Health officials have been grappling with a flu vaccine shortage since it was announced in October that one of the two companies licensed to make the vaccine for use in the United States would not send its supply because of bacterial contamination.
Most of the flu shots available to the public have been rationed. The Spokane County Regional Health District had limited the vaccine to people 65 and older, children between 6 months and 23 months and people with other health concerns.
On Thursday, the district lowered the age limit to 50 before running out.
Luckily, the flu season has been less intense than usual, Church said. Usually, the illness is widespread in Washington by January. Cases have thus far been sporadic with school absences relatively low.
However, the lack of early flu cases is no reason to relax, Church said.
“We could have a tough couple of months ahead,” he said. “It’s just really hard to predict.”