Bay Area Flu Death Count Rises, As Vaccine Providers Work To Keep Up With Demand

With flu season in full swing and more than a dozen flu-related deaths reported in the Bay Area as of today, many residents are getting vaccinated, and flu shot providers are ordering extra doses to keep up with demand.

There have been 14 confirmed flu deaths in the Bay Area so far, with two more reported today in Santa Clara County and another in Santa Cruz County.

In Santa Clara County, there have been four flu deaths this season, including the two reported today. Those two victims were 61 and 62 years old.

The two previous victims, who died in December, were a 61-year-old man and a 41-year-old woman, Santa Clara County Public Health Department spokeswoman Amy Cornell said.

Santa Cruz County’s first flu death was reported today. The victim was a male under the age of 50, county health officials said.

The deaths of two other males under 50 in the county are suspected of being flu-related but that has yet to be confirmed, according to the county.

Other deaths have been reported in Sonoma, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa, San Francisco and Alameda counties this winter.

This year’s flu shot includes protection against the H1N1 strain, known as the “swine flu.” H1N1, which first emerged in humans in 2009, is more dangerous to young and middle-age adults than other flu strains.

Bay Area residents have been heading out in droves to get flu shots in recent days. The higher demand has caused the flu vaccine supply to dwindle at some pharmacies and health centers.

At the Walgreens store at 640 Fourth St. in San Francisco, a pharmacy technician said the vaccine supply was running low.

He said the store receives one shipment a week but that in the past week there was an increase in the number of patients requesting a shot. He said the pharmacy has put in a special order for more of the vaccine.

At the 24-hour Walgreens at 440 Blossom Hill Road in San Jose, a pharmacy employee said the stock of vaccines was also being depleted, although the store still had enough for now.

She said a customer had called asking if that store had shots available because another San Jose Walgreens had run out.

Marc Brown, a spokesman for Kaiser Permanente, said there is high demand at clinics for the vaccination, but that new orders for shots have been placed and Kaiser is not expected to experience a shortage.

In a statement released today, Randy Bergen, head of the annual flu vaccination campaign for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, said an additional 20,000 doses from suppliers was delivered to the region today, and the vaccines are being distributed to local pharmacies and clinics.

Kaiser’s Northern California region expects to receive more than 40,000 more doses in the next few days to meet demand.

In Santa Clara County, where the most recent deaths were reported, there is a full supply of the vaccine, county health department spokeswoman Cornell said.

She said the health department has enough of the vaccine and is urging people to drop by one of the department’s facilities for a shot.

San Francisco Department of Public Health spokeswoman Colleen Chawla said, “There is no indication of a vaccine shortage” at San Francisco clinics and the department’s immunization center at 101 Grove St.

Health officials are urging vaccinations for everyone ages 6 months and older.

The vaccine takes about two weeks after inoculation to be fully effective, according to health officials.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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