RALEIGH, N.C. — Many private physicians expected flu vaccine shipments as early as September, but it is mid-November, and they still have to turn patients away. State health officials call it a "distribution problem." Some private doctors say it's placing some of their patients at risk.
By the first of October, people lined up for the flu vaccine. County health departments offered it. Health insurers organized events to vaccinate high-risk patients as well as local pharmacies.
However, when it comes to private family physicians, about 85 percent in the state do not have the flu vaccine. It is not unusual that large orders from insurers and pharmacies are filled first, but since there is a delayed supply from the manufacturers, it is a problem for private doctors.
"The consequences of that is that physicians who take care of and know who the high risk people are in the community aren't getting any vaccine," said Wake Forest family physician Dr. Carson Rounds.
Rounds, who is president-elect of the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians, said he has only received a small portion of the vaccine he's ordered, and it disappears quickly. Several Web sites help people find where the vaccine is available.
"I think it's kind of a sad statement that you have to go to find a flu clinic locator the Web rather than picking up the phone and calling your doctor and saying, 'Can I come get my flu shot?'" he said.
Seventy-one million doses have already been delivered across the country. Federal health officials say 10 million more are on the way and should be available later this month. Until private doctors get their shipment, Dr. Rounds has this advice for his patients.
"Keep looking. If you see a sign for a flu shot, go get one," he said.
One flu locator Web service, Maxim Health, has an update on their Web site saying they have cancelled all remaining Maxim flu shot clinics due to the distribution problem.