In the past, they could be signs of flu. These days, people fear the symptoms could mean anthrax. That is one reason they are willing to wait in hours-long lines to get a shot of influenza vaccine this year: They want to avoid both the flu and anthrax panic. "We're getting a tremendous amount of calls and a tremendous response'' to flu vaccination clinics, said Cindy Schulte of the Schenectady County Health Department in upstate New York. "People are anxious to get it, and I think it's a year of great anxiety because of all that's in the press."
In fact, more vaccine is expected to be produced this year than in years past: about 85 million doses this year, compared to 75 million in 2000, said Kristine Smith, a spokeswoman for the New York Health Department. This year's shortage is expected to be a temporary one caused by one manufacturer's decision to stop making the flu vaccine. Other manufacturers have stepped up production, but all orders are not expected to be filled until December.
So right now, health departments and some doctors' offices continue to have limited supplies of the vaccine, and are closely following federal guidelines to give shots only to those patients most at risk of getting serious complications from the flu. Those patients include people over 65 and those with chronic respiratory and heart conditions. Because flu season usually does not get into full swing until late December and vaccine is expected to be plentiful by early next month, health officials recommend waiting to get a flu shot.