Flu shots are running low around Riverhead and experts are advising that residents who want to be immunized should go as soon as possible.
At Target, a pharmacist who declined to be named said while flu shots are still in stock currently, there has been some trouble ordering them. The flu season this year, he said, "has been pretty bad."
Some families, who may have one member sick with the flu -- the Target pharmacist said high numbers of Tamiflu prescriptions, used to treat the flu, have been filled -- have been coming in for preventative measures, so the rest don't fall ill. "It's been that kind of season," the pharmacist said.
Walgreen's, on Old Country Road in Riverhead, only had 25 flu shots left as of Friday. "We did about 60 yesterday," said a pharmacy employee who asked not to be identified, as per store policy. "There's not much left."
While a new shipment is supposed to be arriving soon, the pharmacy employee said flu shots are only given until supplies run out for the year.
"Due to high demand caused by the early outbreak of influenza, some of our locations may experience intermittent, temporary shortages of flu vaccine, but we still have vaccine in stock and we resupply our pharmacies and clinics as quickly as possible. Shortages are intermittent and temporary so we don't have a regional breakdown," said Mike DeAngelis, director of public relations at CVS.
DeAngelis said demand is up by double during this year's active flu season. "We are administering more flu shots this season than last. Last season, we administered over two million shots. This season, we’ve already administered four million shots," he said.
Some local pharmacies, however, do not believe in administering the flu shot. "We don't do it here," said Barry Barth, owner of Barth's Drug Store on East Main Street. "I don't think it's a good idea. What if someone has an allergic reaction?"
Barth said although he realizes flu shots are given at a wide range of locations, including big box stores, he said. "That's exactly where I want to go to get my flu shot -- so if something happens they can get me a pillow or blanket until the ambulance comes. It's ridiculous. I don't believe pharmacies should be giving flu shots. They should be given by a doctor."
And, while he said those administering flu shots at big box stores are trained, it's not clear "to what extent."
However, Barth does believe flu shots are a good idea.
Barth said he's seen a higher number of customers coming in with the flu this year. "Absolutely -- even people who have gotten the flu shot, although their cases might not be as severe."
The pharmacist said he has been trying to help patients alleviate their symptoms, suggesting acetominophen or ibuprofen for achiness, if appropriate, and cough syrups and suppressant for other issues. Diabetics and those taking blood medication need products that are sugar or alcohol free, he said.
Dr. Michael Polcino, who has blogged on Patch about flu shots and has an office in Aquebogue, said flu numbers have risen this year.
"We are seeing an increase in the number of people with flu or flu-like symptoms," he said.
According to Polcino, the United States Department of Health and Human Resources recommends the flu vaccine for all individuals six months of age and older, including pregnant women.
"Even if the flu is a different strand than the vaccination being given, patients will still have less severe symptoms than if they receive no vaccine at all," Polcino said.
But supplies are running low, he said. "Due to an increase in media coverage regarding increased cases of flu, more people are asking to be vaccinated," Polcino said. "Therefore, everyone should go ASAP, while the vaccine is still available."
Policino said there's no worry about a dwindling supply of the vaccine at his office. "We have plenty," he said. "We ordered almost double what we did last year."
Some pediatricians in the area, however, may be running low, Polcino said.
Meanwhile, A Long Island expert on infectious diseases Thursday urged parents to get their children and themselves vaccinated now as the flu turned into an epidemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that 18 children nationally have died of flu so far this year, with cases reported in nearly every state.
Dr. Sunil K. Sood said the flu season is considerably worse this year than it has been in several years. “First, it started very early this year, and second, the number of cases has dramatically increased nationwide,” he said. “Third, of the three strains, one, H-3, is associated with a higher death rate.”
This year’s flu vaccine protects against three strains, H-1 and H-3, and a third, Type B. “H-3 gives you a much worse disease,” he said.
Sood, who is director of pediatrics at Southside Hospital and an attending doctor in infectious diseases at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, emphasized the need for children to be protected. And for others to be protected from small disease carriers.
“I’ve been giving really passionate speeches to parents that it is really dangerous not to have vaccinated themselves and their children,” he said. “If you haven’t immunized your child, even healthy kids can die. Children are the spreaders and they pass it on to older people as well.”
Those over 65 or with compromised immune systems are among the most vulnerable.
“It’s been recommended that every child over six months and adults get vaccinated but only 45 percent of children got vaccinated last year," Sood said. "That’s really, really sad."
And, he said, too many health workers don’t get vaccinated either, potentially jeopardizing patients.
Sood had answers to those arguing against the vaccination. “No vaccine is perfect, but this year is a very good vaccine,” he said. “It is impossible to get flu from the shot because it uses a killed virus. And yes, you can get influenza but it won’t be as bad or you could get another virus.”
As far as the timing, Sood said it is not too late. “People say the cat is out of the bag; the answer is: 'No, go get it today.' You still have some time. It takes about a week to start developing immunity, so it’s not too late."
Sood is also professor of Pediatrics and Family Medicine, Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.