Procrastinators who waited until recent weeks to get a flu shot may be contributing to brief shortages of the vaccine as they seek the convenience of getting inoculations while shopping at retail outlets.
But the shortfalls appear to be temporary, meaning Utahns may have to wait only a day or so to get a shot at their local pharmacy, and there are no waiting periods at public health departments along the Wasatch Front.
Despite the waits, there is no shortage of the vaccine in the state or nationally, says Rebecca Ward, a health educator with the Bureau of Epidemiology at the Utah Department of Health.
She encouraged people who want to get a shot to use the department's vaccination locator at www.immunize-utah.org.
"While some providers have run out, the Utah County Health Department has plenty of flu vaccine at all our clinics," spokesman Lance Madigan said in a statement.
The Salt Lake Valley Health Department has about 1,700 doses of the flu vaccine, plus another 2,000 for underinsured and uninsured children, spokesman Nicholas Rupp said. And spokesman Bob Ballew said the Davis County Health Department has shots available at flu vaccine clinics in the county.
Marsha Gilford, spokeswoman for Smith's Food & Drug Stores, said Wednesday that because of the high demand, some pharmacies must reorder before people can get a flu shot, which can take a day or two. She advised customers to call ahead to ensure vaccines are available.
Rite Aid pharmacist Nate Bullock said the chain's 22 Utah store locations have vaccines for now. He noted it's important to keep in mind that although the shots offer immediate protection, it takes two weeks to develop full immunity to the flu virus.
The Harmons grocery chain said that 10 of its pharmacies have intradermal flu shots available for adults over age 18. No appointments are necessary, but given demand, Harmons recommends customers call their nearest pharmacy before making a trip to the store.
The cost of the vaccine is $30, but customers may be able to obtain free vaccines or at a reduced cost with their health insurance plan or Medicaid.
"This is the most active flu season since 2009 when H1N1 hit Utah," said Jameson Rice, pharmacy manager at Harmons City Creek. "We have seen a surge in Utahns [seeking] their flu vaccination this year, and want to encourage the public to come in and get their shots before they get sick."
Although flu activity is still "high" in Utah, it may have peaked.
New data released by the Utah Department of Health Wednesday shows the number of patients reporting flu-like illness at sentinel clinics is dropping, as are flu-related hospitalizations.
Sixty-nine people were hospitalized last week, bringing the total to 389 for the season that started in September.
Everyone who is at least 6 months old should get vaccinated this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's especially important for pregnant women; people with conditions, including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease, as well as the people who care for them; and people age 65 and older.
In addition to getting vaccinated, other measures can reduce the spread of the flu virus, according to state epidemiologist Allyn Nakashima:
Toss it • Cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw away the tissue
No hands • Cough into your elbow rather than your hands
Clean hands • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds multiple times daily
Home sweet home • When you are sick, stay inside for at least 24 hours after your fever breaks to avoid spreading viruses to others in the workplace or school.
Where can I get a flu vaccination?
To find a county-run facility near you that has flu shots available, visit www.immunize-utah.org and click on Vaccination Locator on the lower right-hand corner.