SIKESTON -- Flu shots may be hard to come by for area residents, but local health care providers insist the public shouldn't panic.
"There's no indication or reason for the public to believe that we have an epidemic this year," said Kelley J. Rushing, chief executive officer of Ferguson Medical Group in Sikeston. "We have flu seasons where very, very few people get sick. There's no way to predict that at this level."
Even so healthcare providers are receiving an excessive amount of phone calls and walk-in patients who are worried about not receiving the influenza vaccine.
Scott County Health Department nurse practitioner Kay Griffin noted the department is receiving hundreds of phone calls a day with inquiries about the vaccine.
"But we have none," Griffin said.
Scott County's health department ordered 3,000 doses and got zero. As a result, a lot of people are not going to get the flu shot they normally would and should, Griffin said.
FMG is also receiving many phone calls. Rushing encouraged patients not to take out their frustrations on the healthcare provider receptionists and nurses because they don't have any control over this.
"They're upset, understandably, that they're not getting the vaccine, but it's out of our control at this point," said Ceretha Rucker, director of FMG nursing, about worried patients.
Of the 4,000 doses Ferguson Medical Group in Sikeston ordered, it received 1,750 doses. FMG anticipated the rest of the order to come around the time the shortage was announced, but of course did not receive it.
Of the 114 health departments in the state, 62 received zero flu vaccine doses including Scott, New Madrid and Mississippi counties as well as other pharmacies and private practices.
"Health departments are mainly the main source for flu vaccine in the state because they are free, and because of that most healthcare doctors don't order very much so because of the shortage, they really have none either," noted Melanie Glaus, director of the Mississippi County Health Department.
New Madrid County's health department had 2,075 doses ordered.
"It's very disappointing to order your flu vaccine in February and not find out until the middle of October that you are not going to get any. We have many disappointed clients," said New Madrid County Health Department administrator Michelle Brazel.
Sikeston Medicap Pharmacy owner of Ronnie Hamra planned on giving flu shots Oct. 20 -- and had even advertised for it -- but then learned last week his order of 250 doses wouldn't be arriving.
The nationwide vaccine shortage occurred when the British company, Chiron Corp. -- one of two firms that make the vaccine -- announced it would be unable to supply the estimated 48 million shots expected this year.
"What has happened is there's only one flu company right now, Aventis Pasteur, and they only shipped out half of what they produced, which is about 23 million doses," Glaus explained.
The Centers for Disease Control confiscated the other 22.2 million doses to make sure it is distributed evenly across the United States, Glaus said.
Although FMG has 300 or 400 doses left, they are only being used for the high-risk patients and determined only by an individual's physician, Rushing said, adding even the FMG employees aren't getting the shots.
"We're only going to have enough left at this point to take care of a fraction of people in our practice that would be considered high-risk," Rushing said.
Rushing pointed out it's in the community's best interest as a whole if people who are most susceptible to the flu to receive the shot, and then the community as a whole is less likely to see it spread among the population.
"You have to understand there are a lot of people who have chronic illnesses and are needy, and feel as though they need this vaccine," Rucker said. "Physicians are trying to allot this vaccine to those who are most needy."
Those needy are determined by the CDC criteria, Rucker said. The CDC recommends the following persons receive the flu vaccination this season: all children aged 6--23 months; adults aged 65 years and older; 2- to 64-year-old-persons with underlying chronic medical conditions.
But just because a person meets the criteria doesn't necessarily mean they will receive the vaccine, Rushing pointed out. For example, a healthy 65-year-old probably wouldn't get the shot over someone with diabetes.
FMG isn't sure if or when they will receive the rest of their shipment, Rushing said. Currently the CDC is deciding how and where to distribute the remaining 22.2 million doses.
But the vaccination is not the only method to prevent the flu, Rucker noted. There's other medicines like Tami-flu that can shorten the life of the sickness, she said, pointing out another option only for healthy 5- to 49-year-olds: the nasal spray vaccine FluMist.
Griffen also agreed prevention is the key.
"If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home, Don't be out in public," recommended the Scott County nurse practitioner. "Don't go to church or to ball games -- and wash your hands frequently."