Anxiety over a particularly bad flu season gripped the East Valley and the nation Friday, as people flooded immunization clinics even as the manufacturers of the influenza vaccine announced they had run out of supplies.
"They tell you to stay away from places where there are lots of people, and what do you see when you come in here but a lot of people," Vince Kline of Phoenix said as he and his 5-year-old son Tyler stood in line with some 300 others waiting for a flu shot at the Osco Drug at Alma School and Elliot roads in Chandler.
Kline was on a lunch break from his job down the street, but he and others faced waits of 90 minutes or longer as they sought protection from a flu season which some scientists predict could kill twice as many people as in an average year.
Many of the people in line at the Chandler Osco ended up here after their regular health care providers had run out of the vaccine.
Dr. Art Mollen of Phoenix, whose Mollen Immunization Clinics offer shots at supermarkets and drugstores around the Valley, said Friday that his clinics, which had run out of the vaccine earlier this week, now has 25,000 doses on hand and plans to hold up to six clinics a day during the next week.
He said about 300 people have been coming to the clinics on recent days. "We’re trying to give the vaccine to as many people as we can in the event of a potential epidemic," Mollen said.
State epidemiologist Dr. Bob England said Friday that Arizona’s flu outbreak will be officially classified as "widespread" next week, which means more than half the state’s regions, as monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have reported flu cases.
Reports of several flurelated deaths of children across the country, including a child from Maricopa County who died out of state over the Thanksgiving holiday, have steered many parents and others to get a vaccination.
Maricopa County Public Health Department officials said Friday they are investigating whether flu was related to some local deaths.
County public health spokesman Doug Hauth said the cases were from across the county and involved people of from different age groups. It is not unusual, he said, for the county to be looking at more than one possible flu death at this point in the season.
Hauth had no more information about the first case, in which a medical examiner in another state determined a 5-year-old from the West Valley had the flu, but has not officially confirmed it as the cause of death or where the child caught the flu.
England said during the last three years in Arizona, there has been an average of 18 infant deaths from flu and pneumonia, and five deaths in children ages 1 to 4.
He said this is the first season in which the Fujian strain of flu, which appears to be nastier than flu bugs from years past, is the most prevalent among those strains circulating in the state right now. This is the strain not included in this year’s flu vaccine, but the shots do offer some cross-protection. Other than the vaccine, good hygiene is the best flu prevention, he said.
The grim flu news has sent record numbers of people to get shots. Mollen said his clinics have inoculated more than 100,000 this season, far more than in previous years. The clinics usually end in November.
East Valley medical offices reported having different amounts of the injectable vaccine on hand.
Enriqueta Quintero, a medical assistant at Renaissance Family Medical Care in Chandler, said "We have no problem with it, we keep ordering it and it keeps coming in in two or three days."
Medical assistant Zulli Portugal of Priority Care in Ahwatukee Foothills said the office ran out of the injected vaccine Friday, but still had some doses of the nasal flu vaccine mist, new this year and an option, albeit more expensive, for healthy people ages 5-49.
"We had one patient who came in wanting a flu shot, and he kind of questioned the mist, but he decided to go ahead and get it anyway," she said.