If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, it’s not too late to protect yourself and your family as the country faces one of the worst flu seasons in nearly a decade.
But if you’ve waited this long, you should expect to spend time finding a pharmacy in the Triangle that has vaccine left.
A run on flu shots has depleted the vaccine stock in some pharmacies, and some pharmacists said Monday they are down to just a few doses. Some pharmacies are out of standard vaccine for adults but have double doses for elderly people.
Calls to several area pharmacies found that many CVS stores were completely out, but still had the stronger vaccine for the elderly. Walgreens was transferring the vaccine between stores, and a Rite Aid in North Raleigh still had plenty. The independently-owned Josef’s Pharmacy on New Bern Avenue also still had ample supply.
Pharmacies, which ordered their vaccines months ago, do not expect to receive extra shipments of flu vaccine for this flu season. And several pharmacists said they ran out a month ago.
“It sounds to me like there are temporary localized shortages,” said Jack “Jay” Campbell IV of the N.C. Board of Pharmacy, which licenses pharmacists and regulates pharmacies.
“It’s understandably frustrating that people are probably just going to have to call around,” Campbell said. “This is why it’s a good idea to get your flu shot early in the year.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which monitors national drug shortages, does not list the influenza vaccine as being in shortage.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t track vaccine availability, but the agency’s web site – at http://flu.nc.gov/ – links to a national “Vaccine Finder” search engine that identifies pharmacies by ZIP code. Even if the site says a pharmacy has the vaccine, customers are advised to call the pharmacy to confirm availability.
The federal Centers for Disease Control urges flu inoculations for everyone 6 months and older, with rare exceptions. The agency recommends injections and has not recommended nasal mist sprays for the past two years because of lower effectiveness.
Most of the people who have died of flu-related causes in North Carolina since Jan. 20 were not vaccinated. Of the 67 people who have died, 26 were known to have been vaccinated, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The remaining 41 were either not vaccinated or had no documentation of flu vaccine.
Flu shots are not 100 percent effective, and this year’s vaccine is effective only on about 30 percent of people who get the shots. That’s about half as effective as a vaccine would be in a good year, when medical experts match the vaccine to the viral strains in circulation. But doctors say people should still get the shot because it can reduce the severity of the flu and help limit the spread of the infection.
The flu season typically runs from October through May, but this year the flu peaked early, and in North Carolina, the virus has already claimed 67 lives as of Jan. 20. If the trajectory of flu deaths continues, this flu season could turn out worse than last year’s, when North Carolina reported 219 deaths.
Several pharmacists said by phone Monday that their vaccine supply is so low that it’s best to come by as soon as possible.
One backup source for flu immunizations is your local county health department. The Wake County Division of Public Health offers flu shots at specified times or by appointment in Raleigh, Zebulon, Wake Forest and Fuquay-Varina.
Flu shots are also available locally at some urgent care clinics and many doctors’ offices. For example, all UNC Physicians Network practices have flu shots in stock, said UNC Health Care spokesman Alan Wolf. He said UNC’s urgent care practices typically don’t carry flu vaccine because people don’t want to pay the higher copay for an urgent care visit just to get a flu shot when they can get the shot for free with health insurance at many pharmacies and doctors offices.
Wake County offers flu vaccines
Wake County Human Services will provide flu vaccine by appointment only at the following locations:
Public Health Center: 10 Sunnybrook Road, Raleigh. Call 919-250-3900.
Eastern Regional Center: 1002 Dogwood Drive, Zebulon. Call 919-404-3900.
Northern Regional Center: 350 E. Holding Ave., Wake Forest. Call 919-562-6300.
Southern Regional Center: 130 North Judd Parkway, Fuquay-Varina. Call 919-557-2501.
The vaccine is also available without an appointment from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Thursdays at the Public Health Center, 10 Sunnybrook Road, Raleigh.
The cost for regular flu shots at Wake County Human Services locations is $30. The cost of high-dose flu vaccine is $60. The agency accepts traditional Medicare part B, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Medicaid (adults 21 years and older with Medicaid may be charged a $3 co-pay for their vaccine) and North Carolina Health Choice insurance (bring your card with you).