DHEC addresses CDC shipment delays for pediatric flu shots

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Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 9:38 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As flu season approaches, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is responding to vaccine shipment delays that have made it difficult for some families in the state to get flu shots for their children.

Various providers statewide, including pediatricians’ offices, have not received shipments of the flu vaccine through the federally-subsidized Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. Children through 18 years old who are Medicaid-eligible, uninsured, underinsured, American Indian, or Alaska native qualify for the VFC program.

“DHEC is aware of the burden that it puts on providers when there are the delays,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s Public Health Director, said. “Even though they’re outside of our control, we certainly work with providers to mitigate the delays such as we’ve seen this year.”

Traxler said there are two main issues causing the delay.

To this point, DHEC has only been receiving small amounts of VFC flu vaccine, not enough to send to all providers.

According to the agency, VFC vaccines are typically allocated in smaller amounts than other vaccines.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control halted vaccine shipments to states, including South Carolina, that were in the path of Hurricane Ian.

Those shipments have resumed, and DHEC anticipates most providers will receive their VFC flu shots by the end of the week.

DHEC is not responsible for vaccine shipment, only placing orders.

Traxler said to there have been any other significant delays in getting the flu vaccine out to providers or pharmacies.

Dr. Deborah Greenhouse, a Columbia-based pediatrician, expressed frustration that DHEC had been promoting the flu shot on its social media pages while VFC flu vaccines had not been delivered.

“I want to be able to give my patients the vaccine, I want my practice to be able to promote it, and as soon as we have all of our vaccine, I will be promoting it,” she said. “But we need to make sure we actually have the vaccine to be able to do that.”

Greenhouse has spoken with several families at her office who want to get the flu vaccine for their children, but have not been able to thus far.

DHEC does allow pediatricians’ offices and other providers to borrow from the private stock of vaccines that they’ve purchased to use for the VFC program.

Greenhouse said this is a cumbersome process, but her office may consider going that route while awaiting VFC vaccine shipments.

“A lot of pediatricians simply would not have the time or the staff to do it,” she said.

Traxler also emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated for the flu and said that the rough flu season in Australia could be a sign of the winter ahead.

“We definitely are concerned that there is the potential based on what we’ve seen in the Southern Hemisphere with their flu season as well as what we’re already seeing in terms of flu activity in South Carolina,” she said. “We are concerned that this could be a much worse flu season than what we’ve been accustomed to the last couple of years.”

Young children, older adults, and those who are immunocompromised, as well as people who live with people in those categories, should prioritize getting their flu shot, Traxler said.

DHEC encourages South Carolinians to get their flu shots at some point before the end of October, as this is the optimal window of time to boost immunity for the winter.

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