In spite of flu vaccines being a plenty this year, an estimated 151 million doses, its distribution is fragmented and unpredictable.
Kittery Family Practice, for instance ordered 750 doses but has only received enough for 200 people on Friday. On the other hand at York Hospital, 9,000-plus doses were received on time.
John Phylis, director of pharmacy for York hospital "This year we've happened to get everything we ordered. In years past, it's been very difficult."
However Dr. Dora Anne Mills of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is waiting for half of its 145,000-dose order said, "The fact is, we don't have a national system to assure adequate flu vaccine."
The state has distributed the flu vaccines that they received among pediatricians, nursing homes and rural health centers. Physicians typically order from distributors, while pharmacies grocery chains, and workplaces hire for-profit companies that organize flu shot clinics.
Hannaford Bros., for example, contracts with Maryland-based Maxim Health Systems. The chain sponsored 25 flu shot clinics in October and has 20 more scheduled for this month.
Mills said, "I got a letter from a woman who is very outraged that the supermarket had it but her own doctor hadn't."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a letter last month to health care providers, tried to dispel the appearance of special preference for flu shot clinics.
Jeanne Santoli wrote, "We ask your help in letting providers know that visibility of doses in the retail setting does not equate to preferential distribution to this setting."
According to the CDC some providers may get vaccine before others, depending on the manufacturer or distributor they used.
This was proved by Steve Wright of Maxim Health Systems said his company has not had to cancel a clinic so far because the company ordered from multiple manufacturers.
On the other hand SMMC Visiting Nurses of Kennebunk is relying heavily on one manufacturer that has yet to deliver half of its order. The agency has had to postpone its weekday flu shot clinics and limit vaccines to sicker and older patients.
"They say there's plenty of vaccine, but people are anxious that they're not going to get a shot, and that's a shame," said Executive Director Elaine Brady.
The CDC has assured that orders will be filled faster this year because manufacturers are reporting good progress in vaccine production, unlike in past years.
The formula for the vaccine is different every year, and production rarely begins before the year of the flu season. It takes months to grow the vaccine in chicken eggs and test its safety. One manufacturer, Sanofi pasteur, said that its vaccine was taking longer than usual to produce.
According to health experts said people should not panic if they get their shots later than usual. The flu season typically does not peak until February or later.
"It's been recommended that we keep immunizing through January. Patients who haven't gotten the flu shot by that point could still be protected," said Dr. Don Burgess of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The flu is responsible for more than 20,000 deaths in the United States every year. The vaccine is recommended especially for people 50 and older, the chronically ill, pregnant women and children so that the chances of death and complications are reduced considerably.