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Officials advise flu shots for evacuees in shelters, elderly

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

Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said yesterday 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 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 held by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases during the National Influenza Vaccine Summit.

Gerberding joined other federal health officials and specialists 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, 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."

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 indicated that 65 percent of residents had received flu shots and 38 percent had gotten 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 occur in people 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 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.

Healthcare workers who come in direct contact with patients. Less than half of healthcare workers get flu shots annually, officials said.

The government has not yet predicted just how much flu vaccine the nation will have this fall. Last year, there was a surprise shortage after British regulators shut down a US supplier, Chiron Corp., because of the discovery of contaminated vaccine.

Gerberding said officials are expecting 71 million to 97 million doses to be available, depending on how much Chiron can supply this year.

Officials had expected 100 million doses of flu vaccine last year before Chiron's problems triggered the eliminated almost half from the potential supply. But flu shots were rationed and fears of a shortage went unrealized.

The flu shot this year includes vaccines against two A-strain and one B-strain flu viruses. A-strains are generally harsher.

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