Flu vaccine not a guarantee against illness

One Bakersfield doctor says the flu virus mutates too often to make a universal vaccine.
KERN COUNTY, CA - It's not too late to get a flu shot, but not every doctor and pharmacy in the county chose to carry the vaccine.

The Rite Aid pharmacy in The Marketplace ran out of the flu vaccine Wednesday, and so did several other local pharmacies which only had enough doses to administer through the close of business. There is no shortage of vaccine in the state, but pharmacies said they're having to reorder more every week.

The flu vaccine is relatively affordable for most people, sometimes free if your insurance picks up the bill. But, for doctors it can be a huge expense. They have to pre-order in May and can only buy in bulk.

"You get this, and at the end of the year you have to throw it in the trash can because you can't use it next year," said Dr. Kaye Sykes, who has a small private practice. "And, it was costing me hundreds of dollars just dumping it in the trash can."

Dr. Sykes chose not to carry the flu vaccine this year. Walmart also chose not to carry it, but most other retail pharmacies have it and reorder it every Friday.

Dr. Sykes isn't panicking if patients don't get the vaccine. She said flu strains tend to originate in China, but by the time they reach the United States, the vaccine may not keep you from getting sick.

"We know what they're going to be then, but we don't know how those strains have mutated," said Dr. Sykes. "And, whether they'll respond to the vaccine."

Dr. Sykes said what people should worry about is getting the antiviral drugs in time. Antivirals only work within 48 hours of catching the flu.

"If you've been laying around the house, taking cold medicine, and 'I'm not getting better' and it's been four or five days, then you're going to run into where it's not going to work well," said Dr. Sykes. "Number two, you may run into where some of the insurances, if you can't document that you've had less than 48 hours of symptoms, are not going to pay for it."

California usually orders about 60 million doses of flu vaccine every year, but health officials say less than half of that is ever used.
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