TRAVERSE CITY — Vaccine supplies, delayed this year, have arrived locally despite a month-long national holdup.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the delay was because of the World Health Organization taking longer in matching virus strains to those expected to spread during the 2019-20 flu season.
Owner of Thompson Pharmacy & Medical Mark Thompson reported the pharmacy received a partial shipment September 27.
“We haven’t had our vaccine as usual, but it’s not critical in our area,” Thompson said. “In our area you want to get it (the immunization) in October.”
Thompson said it’s too early to tell whether in North America the 2019-20 vaccine is well-matched for the season’s flu outbreak.
An egg-based vaccine, the alternative cell-cultured vaccine (containing less egg protein) and a 100 percent egg-free vaccine are available this year. Thompson Pharmacy offers only the cell-cultured vaccine for adults. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the cell-cultured vaccine in 2016. Thompson said studies show it is as effective as those produced through the traditional egg-based method.
2019-20 flu vaccines recommended by the CDC protect against three or four strains, like H1N1, H3N2 and B/Victoria.
Last year the flu season lasted longer than usual and was called a “moderately severe season” by CDC.
The vaccine was 29 percent effective.
About half of American adults get a flu vaccine, according to the CDC.
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reports that in Grand Traverse County 44.9 percent of the vulnerable population of children ages 6 months to 8 years completed the flu vaccine series last year.
The Michigan rate was 32.2 percent.
Vaccine supplies have been arriving at Grand Traverse Children’s Clinic in smaller increments than usual, said Dr. Jelanie Bush.
It limited the clinic to providing the vaccine to patients making an office visit.
“We offer it to those six months and up,” the pediatrician said. “It’s a virus that’s quite aggressive and at times causes death.”
She said young children receiving a flu vaccine for the first time require two doses. Bush recommends parents of babies restrict visitors with signs of illness and to keep themselves healthy by practicing standard prevention methods, like hand washing and covering coughs with an elbow.
Flu season typically peaks between December and February. Medical director for Grand Traverse County Health Department Dr. Michael Collins said a flu case was reported by Munson Healthcare labs the week of Sept. 23.
He noted that a single case doesn’t signal the start of an outbreak.
Later than normal vaccine deliveries mean immunizations are beginning to ramp up at GTCHD. Collins anticipates GTCHD will begin providing flu vaccines to the public by October 4.
The CDC recommends everyone over the age of six months receive an annual flu vaccination. It advises that those 65 years and older receive a high dose flu vaccine.
“As we get older, the immune system becomes weaker. It doesn’t respond as well to vaccines,” Collins said. “With higher dose vaccines, the response is more like a younger person.”
The body requires two weeks to build antibodies for protection from the virus. By getting a vaccine, one typically reduces the risk of developing flu between 40 and 60 percent among the general population, according to the CDC.
“There isn’t at this point any reason to think the season will be unusual,” Collins said. “But that can change quickly. It’s important people over six months get vaccinated, if possible.”
Flu vaccinations are available at local health departments, physician offices, vaccination clinics, pharmacies and at some workplaces.
Anyone with flu-related questions may call the Grand Traverse County Health Department at 231-995-6131.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct an inaccurate phone number. — Oct. 9, 2019