Where are the shots?

The avian ?bird? flu spreading through Asia and Europe has started to worry scientists and politicians, who are becoming increasingly concerned about the virus?s possible effects on human health. More immediate, however, is the nationwide struggle to meet the demand for standard flu inoculations, and as Health Services at CMU begins its annual flu vaccination program, it too is feeling the increased burden of a possible pandemic.

Standard influenza vaccinations at CMU and medical centers around the United States are already at a low this year, the Associated Press reported. Anita Barkin, the director of Health Services, said the University is beginning to experience the effects of the shortage, despite earlier assurances that CMU would have a full supply of the vaccine.

?We have received only a fraction of our order,? Barkin said. ?Other clinics, schools, and even the Allegheny County Health Department have not received full shipments.?

The situation is nothing new, though. Last year, problems with vaccine production meant that CMU ended up with a shortage. ?Normally, we administer 1200 to 1300 shots,? Barkin said. ?Last year we gave 500 to high-risk individuals only.?

As a virus, the strain of influenza commonly contracted by humans mutates often. That means that each year drug makers have to manufacture new strains of vaccine to combat the virus. In some cases, these strains prove difficult to create or are harmful toward humans ?? which happened last year when Chiron Pharmaceuticals? vaccine failed trials of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This year, production continues to lag. Roche, a Swiss-based maker of the vaccine Tamiflu, a medication which mitigates the effects of the flu, has withheld manufacturing instructions from other corporations, ignoring pleas from the U.S. and the European Union to do so.

Forbes magazine reported, however, that mounting pressure has forced the company to make some concessions. After a recent meeting with the EU Health Commission, Roche announced plans to license its instructions to a limited number of other companies and governments. It will still take some time to manufacture the drug, and such delays could be costly.

For students here at CMU, the shortage of flu vaccines necessitates waiting lists. ?We offered the vaccine to high risk individuals first. We have another 75 shots available and expect to receive another shipment of vaccine within the month. At that time, we will contact persons who... have registered for a shot at the Student Health Service,? said Barkin.

Most students seem to be unconcerned by the small number of doses. ?I don?t really see what the issue is. Maybe for the elderly and weak it?s important to get shots, but for younger people it?s not really a problem,? said Karl Fu, a first-year in CIT. Of several dozen students asked in Morewood Gardens, few had even considered getting vaccinated, though Health Services reported that 500 shots have already been administered to at-risk students and faculty.

?I party every night and I never get sick. The flu doesn?t even affect humans, so I?m not worried,? first-year computer science major Andrew Hall said, referring to the avian flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website states that most strains of the avian flu cannot easily affect humans, nor have there been any reported cases of the avian flu in the United States. However, common influenza can hospitalize up to 200,000 people in the United States each year.

Students who want the vaccine for the common flu can arrange appointments by contacting Health Services. The vaccination costs $15, but is available free to those enrolled in the University?s Highmark BCBS insurance plan.

Students must present their IDs to receive shots, and since there is a shortage of the vaccine, there will be a wait until the end of November, when a new shipment is scheduled to arrive, according to Barkin. In the meantime, WebMD gives the same recommendation as always for preventing infection: eat healthy, exercise regularly, and drink plenty of fluids.