If you’ve just decided to get a flu shot, it may be too late.
Lines for vaccinations around the East Valley and elsewhere showed no sign of relenting Monday, and the state’s top health official said he expects the public’s rush for flu shots will deplete supplies.
“It’s going fast,” said Dr. Bob English, the state’s epidemiologist. “In all likelihood, there won’t be enough to meet the demand this year.”
The demand for flu shots has skyrocketed in recent weeks nationwide as doctors predict this flu season’s death toll will surpass the 36,000 who die in a typical year. News of flu-related deaths in Arizona, which officials on Monday said were at least four, has fueled demand and worry.
Yet health care officials said the public shouldn’t fret if the vaccine supply runs out.
A flu shot is an excellent way to thwart infection, but doctors said prevention doesn’t require a trip to the doctor.
“Follow mom’s old advice on how not to get sick,” English said.
The tips are simple:
• Wash your hands often.
• Don’t touch your mouth, nose or eyes — points where viruses enter the body.
• Get plenty of sleep.
• Stay hydrated.
• Take supplements, including antioxidants and B complex.
• Avoid junk food and sugar.
“Back off the sweets,” said Carol Jensen, a nurse who gave shots at a Mesa grocery store Monday afternoon. “I can’t say how important that is.”
Sugar suppresses the immune system, which is vital in fighting infections. Jensen said she doesn’t get the flu — despite never getting a shot — by following basic health guidelines.
Flu shots are essential to many, though. Health care professionals urged immunization for those older than 50, health care workers, children 6 to 23 months old, women more than 3 1/2 months into pregnancy and anybody who has contact with these groups.
News of this year’s strong flu strain has boosted demand nationwide, which has put doctors in a tough situation.
England said he’s struggled to stress the importance of vaccinations, especially in at-risk groups, without creating panic or causing low-risk people to consume vaccines before at-risk populations can get shots.
“I want people to realize not to worry too much but to realize that we live with a disease that kills a number of us,” England said.
The flu-related illness kills on average 1,200 a year in Arizona. About 20 infants die from flu-related illnesses a year in the state. Influenza claimed two young children and two adults in Arizona this season. England expects more have died already, but he said the reporting system lags.
“Influenza is a more serious disease than we tend to give it credit, but it is every year,” England said.
The number of flu cases reported and the severity of symptoms show this year will be a tough one, health officials said.
That prediction triggered hundreds of people to line up Monday for shots at a Mesa Fry’s on the corner of Alma School Road and Main Street. People started lining up outside the store at 9:30 a.m. — for a clinic that was scheduled to start at noon.
Nurses, however, started two hours early to accommodate about 200 people turned away from a Sunday clinic where the vaccine ran out. The people turned away had been in line 5 1/2 hours, yet they appreciated nurses making extra time for them Monday.
“One guy bought us lunch because he was so grateful that we did this,” said Pat Hensen, a nurse with the Mollen clinic.
Many in the line were getting flu shots for the first time, like 65-year-old Jeanette Shanks of Mesa. She had considered shots in the past and had always put them off, but news of the flu’s severity changed things this year.
Shanks’ thirtysomething son in Chicago contracted the flu and coughed so much that he broke a rib.
“I figured if it hit him that bad, I’d better do something,” Shanks said.