By Mac Cerullo
---- — Facing the region’s worst outbreak of influenza in years, local residents are rushing to get their flu shots, and many clinics are struggling to keep up with the demand.
Amesbury and Salisbury’s health departments, along with many medical clinics and pharmacies in the area, have seen their supply of flu shots exhausted since Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency on Wednesday. Most others are running low, and all have reported the biggest rushes on flu shots in some time.
The concern isn’t without warrant either; Anna Jaques Hospital reported yesterday that they have already had 60 confirmed flu cases since New Years alone, an alarming statistic considering the hospital hadn’t had any confirmed cases at this point last year.
Overall, there have been over 700 cases of the flu in Boston since Oct. 1, compared to just 70 since this point last year, and yesterday the state Department of Public Health announced that it would be taking additional measures to help address the crisis.
“This is the strongest flu season nationally and in Massachusetts in several years,” said Anne Roach, a DPH spokesperson, in a press release. “The latest statewide data shows that rates of flu-like illness are on the rise in Massachusetts, earlier in the flu season than in recent years.”
Newburyport public health director Bob Bracey said his office purchased 100 additional vaccines after Menino’s public health emergency declaration, adding that the city will be holding extended hours next week when people can come in and get their flu shot for free.
“We’ll offer the shot to anyone who wants it, whether you’re a Newburyport resident or not,” Bracey said. “The state has told us they don’t have any more vaccines, so that’s why we went ahead and purchased them. If there is a need for us to purchase more, we’ll seek avenues to do so.”
Jack Morris, the regional health director for Amesbury and Salisbury, said both of his communities had used up their allotment of vaccines from the state and wouldn’t be receiving any more. Residents of those communities would have to seek other avenues to get their shot.
“We are recommending that people get in touch with their doctors or one of the pharmacies,” Morris said.
Danielle Perry, a spokesperson for Anna Jaques Hospital, said physicians at North Shore Internal Medicine and Coastal Medical Associates had reported a heavy volume of calls from patients asking about getting a flu shot.
Susan Ashley, office manager at Newburyport Medical Associates, said her office has also seen a significant influx of patients seeking flu shots in the past few days as well.
“We’re out of shots,” she said. “So we’re sending them to the local pharmacies.”
Of the pharmacies in the area, Ashley said the Newburyport and Salisbury CVS stores were out of stock, but the Walgreens in Newburyport still had some available. A shift supervisor at the Amesbury CVS said his store still had some in stock but was running low, and a clerk at the Amesbury Rite Aid answered the phone by saying “Thank you for calling Rite Aid, we have flu shots.”
Carolyn Castel, vice president of corporate communications for CVS, said the early outbreak of flu season was causing some stores to run out of flu shots but that there are enough vaccines in stock to meet the overall demand.
“There is no overall shortage of vaccine,” Castel said. “We have vaccine in stock and we resupply out pharmacies and MinuteClinic locations as quickly as possible.”
The heavy volume of residents seeking flu shots has evidently caught some pharmacies off guard. A clerk at Walgreens who asked not to be named in this story said her store was experiencing some of its longest lines ever yesterday, largely due to the fact that there was only one pharmacist on duty for much of the day.
“We have lines we’ve never seen before,” the clerk said. “We have plenty of shots, but we weren’t expecting it today and only the pharmacist can give the shots. There was only one pharmacist in today so the lines are backing up.”