Shortages, election fueling anxiety

By Greg Gelpi

Flu vaccine shortages along with an "emotionally charged" presidential election are fueling the nation's anxiety, one expert said.

Vaccine shortages and the presidential elections combine to "polarize" the nation, Dr. Catherine Deering, a registered nurse and psychology professor, said. In anxious times, people tend to cluster in groups and form extreme views. That is heightened by the presidential election.

"This is the kind of behavior you see that leads to riots and uprisings," Deering said. "The more people worry and become anxious about it, the more the snowball effect."

The Democrats are calling it an "extreme emergency," while the Republicans are saying there it's "no big deal," Deering said.

"The reality is something in between," she said.

On Thursday, police were called in when senior citizens arrived at the Kroger grocery store in Stockbridge to receive flu shots, but the store's supply of 50 shots was quickly exhausted.

"I would expect it to increase over the next week or two," Deering said. "Anxiety is a really contagious emotion."

As low supplies of flu shorts actually run out, people will think the shortage has become worse when it hasn't, adding to the anxiety, she said.

Richard Quartarone, a spokesman with the state Division of Public Health, said the nation's supply is being "reallocated" to meet the needs of those at high risk of complications. More shipments are also expected in about a month.

"We don't necessarily know if there's more demand this year than in years past," Quartarone said, but added that the nation doesn't typically run out of flu shots.

The country has experienced shortages since a British manufacturer, one of the country's two suppliers of flu vaccines, reported contaminated vaccines, prompting cancellations of orders.

"Right now, we don't have any places giving out vaccines in the county" Clayton County Board of Health spokeswoman Sheryl Taylor said, adding that the board's central office receives about five calls an hour asking where to get a flu shot.

The Clayton County Board of Health is advising that those who are at high risk of serious complications from the flu be the first to receive flu shots.

Those at high risk include: those who are age 65 and older, have a chronic illness, have a weakened immune system, are pregnant in the second or third trimester during flu season, are children or teen-agers receiving long-term aspiring therapy, work in a residential care facility or are healthcare workers.

For those who are unable to get a shot, the board of health is suggesting other ways to avoid catching the flu.

Stephen Morgan, the district health director for the board of health, offered advice for those who aren't able to get a flu shot.

"In keeping with the (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines, vaccinating is not the only way to prevent the flu," Morgan said. "The following simple actions can help you prevent getting sick: if possible avoid close contact with people who are sick, stay home when you are sick, when you cough or sneeze cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and wash your hands before you touch your eyes, nose and mouth."