Feds Plan to Ensure Flu Shots for Evacuees

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Federal health officials are pressing forward with plans to ensure flu vaccinations (search) for hurricane evacuees (search) in shelters as well as all people in nursing homes, populations they say are particularly at risk for catching the illness while living in tight quarters.

Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (search), said Wednesday that elderly evacuees, as well as those of all ages at shelters, will be among the first to receive flu shots this fall.

Manufacturer Sanofi-Pasteur (search) is making 200,000 of the first flu shots available to those evacuees, officials have said.

Federal stocks of all vaccines are being made available to children who are evacuees, Gerberding said, speaking at a news conference during the National Influenza Vaccine Summit (search).

Gerberding joined other federal health officials and experts to give their annual plea for people to get their flu shots, focusing particularly on high-risk groups.

Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (search), said a proposed rule would require all nursing homes to offer vaccinations against the flu and bacterial pneumonia.

The goal is to get 90 percent of people in nursing homes vaccinated, McClellan said. Nursing home residents can opt out, and a few may not be eligible for the shots for other health reasons, he said.

"Go get your shot," he said. Mary Kahn, a spokeswoman for the centers, said the rule is expected to take effect Oct. 1. The federal government can enforce the rule because nursing homes receive Medicare payments.

In a news release, Medicare officials cited a 1999 survey of nursing homes that said 65 percent of residents had received flu shots and 38 percent had received bacterial pneumonia shots.

About 2 million people live in the nation's 18,000 nursing homes, Medicare officials said.

More than 90 percent of the deaths from the flu come in people who are 65 or older, officials said.

Because of questions about the vaccine supply, federal officials want high-risk groups to get their flu shots and are asking doctors to hold off on giving the shots to healthy adults until Oct. 24 at the earliest.

High risk groups include:

—People aged 65 and older.

—People in long-term care facilities.

—People with asthma, diabetes and other conditions.

—Children between 6 months and 23 months.

—Pregnant women.

—Health care workers who come in direct contact with patients. Less than half of health care workers get flu shots annually, officials said.

The government hasn't yet predicted just how much flu vaccine the nation will have this fall, after last year's surprise shortage when British regulators shut down a U.S. supplier, Chiron Corp., because of the discovery of contaminated vaccine.

Gerberding said officials are expecting between 71 million and 97 million doses to be available, depending on how much Chiron can supply this year if its new supplies are approved for distribution.