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Mounting Deaths Prompt Run on Flu Shots

As the flu claims a third Orange County resident, RSM pharmacies are running out of flu shots.

With Orange County’s flu-related death toll climbing to three this week, pharmacies in Rancho Santa Margarita are beginning to run out of flu shots.

The Walgreens on Santa Margarita Parkway and the CVS on Antonio Parkway are out of shots but plan on having more in stock next week. Pavilions had about 15 shots as of Saturday afternoon, and Rite Aid on Santa Margarita Parkway has shots available by appointment only. 

A map of locations where flu shots are available can be found online at Healthmap Vaccine.

“Over the last week, there has been a run on flu shots,” said Cal-Med Pharmacist Ken Anzolar. “For the past five years, the trend has fluctuated.”

Last year, there was no shortage of shots, but in years such as the current flu season or in 2009 during the last severe flu outbreak to hit California, the demand rises.

The most recent fatal victim of the flu was a 45-year-old woman who lived in Santa Ana, according to Nicole Stanfield of the Orange County Health Care Agency. She died during hte past week.

A 55-year-old La Habra man and a 51-year-old Fountain Valley man also died of influenza near the end of December, county health officials said.

The most recent victim, whose name was not released, did not have any other underlying medical issues, according to Stanfield.

She said rumors of a declining supply of flu shots are inaccurate: "We still have plenty of vaccines. We’ve had a huge uptick in the number of people getting vaccinated.”

At the agency's clinic in the 1700 block of West 17th Street in Santa Ana, 4,220 flu shots have been given out between October and Thursday, Stanfield said.

Last year, the clinic gave out 2,456 shots from October through the end of January, Stanfield said. In 2010, the clinic provided 2,972 shots from October through Jan. 25, she said.

During the most recent severe flu season in 2009, 57 people died in Orange County of influenza, Stanfield said.

Vaccines often cost $20-$30; however, they are often covered by insurance.

Flu shots are an inactivated vaccine made from killed virus, which means it’s impossible to get the flu from the vaccine, according to Dr. Angela Rasmussen, an infectious disease expert.

There are currently three flu shots being produced in the U.S.: the regular (intramuscular) seasonal flu shot, a high-dose vaccine for people 65 and older, and an intradermal (injected into the skin) vaccine for people ages 18 to 64.

In addition, a nasal-spray flu vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses (which also do not cause the flu) is available to healthy people ages 2 to 49 years old, except pregnant women.

The most common side effect from a flu shot is soreness at the injection site.

Even those who think they don't need a flu shot should get one anyway, according to Jack Cantlin, a pharmacist and the divisional vice president of retail clinical services at Walgreens. It's possible to contract the virus and carry it without being sick.

The elderly, young children, pregnant women and nursing home residents are at greater risk for serious complications from the flu. People with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and chronic lung disease—as well as those who work with them—are also at risk.

- City News Service contributed to this report.

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