WASHINGTON – Federal employees who face serious complications from the flu will be able to get free flu shots (search) at work starting next week, the Health and Human Services Department (search) said Tuesday.
Clinics at many federal agencies will have the vaccine on hand, as they do every year, HHS spokesman Bill Pierce (search) said.
But with a nationwide vaccine shortage, the shots will only be available to people who fall within government guidelines — pregnant women, the chronically ill and, in some instances, federal workers 65 and older, he said.
"We're doing exactly what the CDC recommends," Pierce said. "This is an example of what other people should be doing."
Pierce said he did not know how many doses of vaccine would be available, but he added, "We're not getting as much flu vaccine as we otherwise would."
The U.S. supply of flu vaccine was slashed nearly in half in early October when Chiron Corp. was barred from shipping 48 million doses because of contamination at a plant in England.
Last week, Capitol physician John Eisold drew criticism when his office revealed that he was urging lawmakers to get vaccinated, regardless of whether they fall into the government's high-risk categories.
Some lawmakers and constituents said members of Congress should not be getting special treatment at a time when older Americans are waiting in line for flu shots around the country.
The topic has found its way into the presidential campaign with Sen. John Kerry citing the shortage as an example of what he calls the Bush administration's incompetence. President Bush has made the flu a part of his appeal to limit lawsuits. The president argues that more manufacturers would be in the vaccine business if they didn't have to worry about being sued by people who suffer adverse reactions to inoculations.
Federal Occupational Health, a branch of the Public Health Service, runs health clinics at several government agencies. Pierce said the government would redistribute any leftover doses.
The availability of the flu vaccine for federal workers was first reported by The Washington Post on its Web site Tuesday night.