Pharmacies and clinics across North Texas reported dwindling supplies of flu vaccine Saturday as news of local deaths and record numbers of hospitalizations caused a spike in demand.
Some stores, such as the Preston Road Pharmacy in University Park, said they had been out of shots for days, even as hundreds of people kept calling. And at some stores where shots were available Saturday, supplies quickly ran out.
A clinic in Plano gave out 500 shots Saturday morning, then had to turn away about 300 people after its vaccine supply was emptied.
“Everyone is looking for them,” said Martha Duncan, a pharmacist at Pharmacy Plus in Irving. “All we have been telling them is, ‘Sorry, we can’t help.’”
The increased demand follows reports that 26 people have died of the flu so far this season in Dallas County. It’s hard to say whether that number is high. This is the first year that the county has tracked adult deaths.
But hospitalizations have been at record levels, according to Dallas County Health and Human Services. That seems to be because this year’s strand of the flu is the particularly virulent H1N1, or swine flu.
Dr. Mark Till, chairman of emergency medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, said the number of people infected with flu appears to be normal. But those people seem to be sicker, he said.
In addition to having a fever, cough and body aches, many people are coming down with influenza pneumonia, he said. County health department reports show that about one-quarter of the people who have died or been admitted into intensive care with the flu had no other major medical condition.
Leticia Escalante said she spent most of her day going from store to store in Oak Cliff seeking a flu shot for her father.
“He should have gotten one way earlier, but now we are getting worried,” she said before entering a CVS store at Jefferson Boulevard and Hampton Road. The pharmacy’s supply had run out.
The problem doesn’t seem to be a widespread shortage of the vaccine, health officials said. Instead, stores may simply have been caught off guard by the huge surge in demand.
“A huge contributor to this is all the stuff on the news,” said Mark Drake, store director of Albertsons in Uptown.
Drake’s store was poised to run out of shots Saturday afternoon — only three remained at about 2:30 p.m. But the Albertsons chain is able to move vaccinations around among its stores to handle shortfalls.
Other pharmacies said they expected to have their supplies restocked soon. The CVS where Escalante was turned away expected more Sunday. And the Pharmacy Plus in Irving was hoping for a new shipment by early this week.
The county health department will continue to provide shots when it opens Monday. Lines in recent days have been roughly 300 people long, department director Zachary Thompson noted.
Thompson said it’s best for people to get their shots in the fall. That helps stanch the spread of the illness and gives people more time to develop immunity.
“In October, you have a lot of vaccines available, but you don’t have a lot of people interested in taking them,” he said.
Flu shots: Doctors urge you to get immunized if you haven’t already. The shot is considered the best defense against the H1N1 strain.
Other prevention: Wash your hands, and avoid being around sick people. If you have the flu, stay home from work.
How is it treated? Normal fever, cough and achiness can often be treated with antiviral drugs. Severe shortness of breath or a sudden increase in the severity of symptoms might require further medical attention, doctors say.