The shortage of flu-vaccine doses means that only the people in the highest risk categories -- the elderly, ill people and infants -- should be getting flu shots.
But Susan Bowler, the public health nurse manager for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, says healthy adults and children are asking for flu shots and receiving them.
"Not all the clinics in the Yampa Valley are prioritizing," Bowler said. "We're jeopardizing the people in the community who are at high risk."
Chiron Corp., based in England, was expected to provide up to 48 million doses of the vaccine to the United States, but British regulators unexpectedly shut down the plant, citing contamination concerns.
That left Aventis Pasteur as this year's sole supplier of injectable vaccine with about 55.4 million doses.
"With 50 percent of our supply not being usable, we're not even sure we're going to have enough for the high-risk group," Bowler said.
Much of Aventis Pasteur's inventory has been sold and shipped to private distributors and cannot be called back.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is facing the challenge of rearranging and redistributing the inventory in stock to get it in the hands of the most needy, Bowler said. The CDC has been polling health care providers across the country, asking what they need.
Bowler has put in a request for 1,200 doses, but doesn't know whether that request will be filled.
So she's urging private clinics, many of which have an inventory of doses, to adhere to CDC guidelines and give shots only to those people who truly need them.
"One of the fears of the private clinics is that they're going to be left with unused doses, which to them is a financial loss," Bowler said.
"My feeling is that there's no way they're not going to use those doses."
"Every year, everyone gets their own amount of vaccine, and what CDC has recommended forever is that people in the high-risk categories get it first, then the rest of us."
But with the shortage, there will be no doses for people who don't fall into the high-risk categories. If you're a healthy adult, don't take yourself or your healthy child in for a flu shot. You could deprive an elderly person or a cancer patient on chemotherapy of his only protection from what could be a fatal illness.
Seniors have been calling and asking the VNA when they're going to have a flu vaccination clinic, Bowler said.
The shortage means there are no doses for such a clinic, and she encourages senior citizens to see their doctors as soon as possible to get a dose while they're still available.
For those who don't get the vaccine, Bowler says some common sense can help stem infection rates.
"If you're sick, stay home. Don't go to work, and children who are ill shouldn't be sent to school." People should take care to wash their hands in warm, soapy water for 15 seconds several times a day to ward of the spread of germs.
If you do get sick, there are some anti-viral drugs that can help minimize the symptoms of the flu, but they have to be taken within three days of getting sick to be effective.
And they can be expensive for those who are uninsured.
The VNA does have some vaccines available under the "Vaccines for Children Program."
The program provides the vaccine for all children ages 6 months to 2 years and children at least 6 months old who have any chronic medical disorder, such as diabetes and asthma. The vaccine also is available for children who are household contacts of an infant younger than 6 months.
The program requires the vaccine only be provided to children who have health insurance that does not pay for vaccines, who have no health insurance, are enrolled in Medicaid, or are American Indian or Alaskan Native.
To make an appointment or receive additional information, call the VNA in Moffat County at 824-8233.