A national flu vaccine shortage means that Dartmouth has only half the vaccines it ordered for this season, but this is enough to inoculate all students at risk for serious complications from the illness, College health officials said.
Still, with about 1,400 doses of the traditional vaccine and 20 doses of FluMist, the newer, inhaled version, the College will not be able to give anywhere near the 2,700 vaccines dispensed last year, and the flu shot clinic that Human Resources and Health Services usually sponsors has been cancelled.
However, Health Services does plan to contact those students in high-risk groups within the next two weeks and to hold a clinic where they can be inoculated free of charge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as high-risk infants, the elderly, healthcare workers and those with chronic medical conditions.
Some private doctors in the area may be able to provide healthy students with the vaccine, but Health Services Director Jack Turco said he discourages healthy young people from seeking the vaccine, in order to save supplies for higher-risk individuals.
“We take very seriously that we are the primary care physician for Dartmouth students when they’re here, so we plan on identifying the high-risk group of students who should get a flu shot, and we’re prepared to give one to all of the students who need it,” Turco said.
About half the hospitals in New Hampshire had no flu vaccines at all as of Wednesday, Turco said.
Only about half of the 100 million influenza vaccines usually dispensed in the United States before flu season will be available this year, due in large part to a factory shutdown in the United Kingdom.
After shutting down the factory because of manufacturing problems, California-based Chiron Corporation will be unable to supply the United States with the 46 million vaccinations it had promised this year. The United States will now receive 54 million doses of the vaccine from a competing supplier, as well as about 1.1 million doses of FluMist.
The CDC said that most people can do without a flu vaccine.
“For healthy people, the flu is uncomfortable, but it’s not life-threatening,” said Karen Hunter of the CDC.
Other universities are taking similar steps to deal with the shortage. Princeton University, like Dartmouth, is reserving its supply of the vaccine for students who fall into high-risk groups, and Brown University, having ordered its entire supply from Chiron, has cancelled its annual flu vaccine clinic. Brown’s health office does not know when or whether it will receive any dosages of the vaccine, said Lynn Dupont, assistant director there.
In place of inoculating the usual number of individuals, the CDC and other health officials are asking that people take extra precautions this flu season by using alcohol-based hand sanitizers and minimizing contact with others who are sick.