Along with plummeting temperatures and fierce winds, winter brings another visitor to the Cornell campus: influenza. Most years, the full damage potential of the influenza epidemic is alleviated by mass administrations of flu vaccine, reducing both the spread and the severity of the virus.
But this year, Gannett, along with many other health care providers in New York State and the United States, has received many fewer units of vaccine than expected.
“We were given about two-thirds of the amount we normally receive, the amount that we asked for,” said Nianne Van Fleet, on-call counselor for Gannett. “Our primary provider experienced a major shortage that left many of its customers with much less vaccine than anticipated.”
According to Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations for Gannett, Gannett orders vaccine a full year in advance in order to give its providers time to analyze the expected strain of virus to hit in the following year. Last February, they ordered 8,500 doses of vaccine from two different providers, the larger of which, Chiron Corporation, notified Gannett on Nov. 14th that they would not be able to complete the remainder of Gannett’s order. To date, Gannett has received only 6,100 doses of vaccine.
“For now, Gannett is trying to find new providers that have had no trouble delivering their orders,” she said.
According to Gannett’s official release about the shortage, there have not yet been serious repercussions because there have not been any serious reports of influenza. Currently, no cases of influenza have been brought to Gannett for treatment.
But it is still early in the flu season, and no provider has yet been found to complete the remainder of the vaccine order.
“Right now the best we can do is to administer vaccine to students at the highest risk for catching the virus,” Van Fleet said. “We still have some doses left, but we will only give them to those who need them most.”
According to the official website of the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those at high-risk include those 65 or older or between six and 23 months of age, pregnant women and adults and older children with chronic health conditions, notably metabolic diseases such as diabetes and AIDS.
While it may appear that the vast majority of these high-risk factors would not affect Cornell students and would therefore be of less concern, Gannett has purchased vaccine for the entire community, including all of Cornell’s staff and faculty. Thus the vast majority of students are not being targeted for vaccination. Vaccination appointments will continue, but in a reduced state; many scheduled clinics have been canceled for students at low risk for developing complications due to influenza.
The shortage accompanies a much larger nationwide shortage that stems from a coupling of high demand with short-term production problems, said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. But she said that the flu season has started off with a whimper, and thus far in the season the missing vaccine has not caused a serious health problem among the population.
“We have less flu in the country this year than at the same time last year,” she said.
Archived article by Tom Beckwith