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Flu shot frenzy hits Whidbey Island

Mimicking a scene repeated around the country this week, people started lining up outside Island Drug at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, hoping to get their flu shots before the vaccine ran out.

Only 15 people were able to get shots from pharmacist Bill Bulpin, the last of 1,000 doses he ordered for the season. It’s the busiest Bulpin has ever been giving flu shots.

“We’re the best kept secret on the island,” he said. Flu shots have been available at the pharmacy since September, during all regular business hours. Tuesday was the first day he had people lined up when he arrived at 9 a.m.

“I would have gotten here earlier if I had known people were waiting,” he said as he prepared to administer his first of the last flu shots.

The flu that is making the rounds this season has yet to hit anywhere near epidemic levels, but people on North Whidbey are getting their flu shots at a fever pitch, and supplies will likely be depleted by the end of the week for all but the youngest.

Jim O’Connor said he has never gotten a flu shot before, but he was first in the door at Island Drug.

“I can’t afford to be sick,” he said. He explained that he flies frequently for his job, and had heard that one person on an airplane with the flu could infect 75 percent of the passengers.

“I don’t want to be in that 75 percent,” he said. He was also influenced by the publicity surrounding this year’s flu season, particularly the report of deaths early in the season.

“The death thing had something to do with it,” he said.

The flu-related deaths recently of five children in Colorado and one in New Mexico may have helped fuel the flu-shot frenzy, but Dr. Roger Case, Island County health officer, and the State Health Department, report there have been no deaths in children from the flu in this state, and influenza death rates overall are within expected limits.

“There is a little concern going on because it hit earlier,” he said.

Case said the Island County Health Department expects to be out of flu vaccine for adults by the end of the week, but has ordered 400 more doses for children. Those will be distributed to local pediatricians.

As for adult vaccine, “there isn’t any more to get,” Shannon McDonnell, director of the county’s immunization clinics, said.

The health department ordered 2,000 initial doses, less than last year. McDonnell said they expected to need less vaccine because more people were getting their shots at private clinics, and the county was no longer vaccinating Group Health clients.

Like many clinics around the country, Island County ended up throwing out vaccine last year. Until the past few weeks business had been slow at the county-operated flu clinics. Now the health department is fielding about two calls per minute from islanders looking for protection from the flu.

While the early and rapid spread of the flu has been a hot topic in the media, Case said it is nowhere near a level that should cause panic, and is in fact no different so far than the average flu season.

Case said he does expect this year’s flu season to be more severe than the last two years, but not in the realm of an epidemic.

If you haven’t already gotten a shot, or scheduled an appointment, it may be too late anyway.

The Coupeville clinic ran out of vaccine Monday, the South Whidbey Health Department clinic used the last of its vaccine allotment Tuesday, and McDonnell expected the 80 doses available today at the Oak Harbor clinic to go quickly as well. That clinic is 1 to 4:30 p.m. at the Family Resource Center, corner of Whidbey and Regatta.

Whidbey Community Physicians reports they have only enough vaccine for patients who have made appointments for this week.

Pediatricians will have limited supplies. People should call their physician to check on supplies or make an appointment.

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island hasn’t run out of vaccine yet, but hospital Public Affairs Officer Sarah McGruder said at this point they are targeting children and the older generation.

A flu shot clinic for active duty personnel, beneficiaries and retirees will be held today from 7 a.m. to noon at the Nor’Wester Club on base.

McGruder said they have given more than 4,000 shots on the base and at two clinic sessions in Oak Harbor.

If there is any vaccine left after the clinic today, McGruder said it will be available at the base immunization clinic.

For those people who don’t get flu shots, McDonnell recommends taking standard precautions: wash hands thoroughly, cough into your elbow, not your hand, wear a mask if you are sick and need to visit the doctor’s office.

Get your shots

Oak Harbor School District is sending out letters this week warning some parents to bring their children’s immunizations up to date or face expulsion from school. For details please see "No shots, no school," on this site

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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