Chennai: Vaccines against H1N1 have been wiped off shelves most hospitals and drug stores across the city. Pharmaceutical companies have said it may take one to three weeks for fresh supplies and many private hospitals, particularly those with more than 50 beds, are beginning to waitlist families for appointments.
There has been a steep increase in H1N1 cases across the state, particularly in Chennai and neighbouring districts, since September. While the official H1N1 toll is 23, doctors say several more people have died following complications of the disease in 2018. Now, doctors have been advising patients to consider taking the flu shot. The cost of the vaccine varies from Rs 800 to Rs 1,400.
On Tuesday, P K Yadav of Nungambakkam, who went to a corporate hospital for vaccination, was asked to leave his contact details with the immunisation desk. “There were many more people on the list. But they have promised to call me as soon as stock is available,” said the 34-year-old businessman.
One of the major reasons for the demand-supply gap, doctors say, is lack of adequate information for medical professionals, policy makers and patients. Clinical virologist Dr Jacob John, a retired professor from Christian Medical College, Vellore, said the vaccines were highly effective and were used in several countries such as the US annually by all sections of people. “In India, the vaccine is licensed but there are no recommendations on who should use it,” he pointed out.
Infectious diseases expert Dr V Ramasubramanian, director of The Capstone Clinic on Kodambakkam High Road, said he recommends the vaccine to most people including those who have been infected with H1N1 once.
“The flu vaccine is not merely for prevention of H1N1. There are several flu strains, including H2N3, that we commonly see now,” he said.
Influenza viruses are divided into three broad categories — A, B and C. H1N1 is viral serotype among the most common type category A. Each year’s flu vaccine includes varieties of influenza A — both H1N1 and H3N2 — and influenza B.
Most paediatricians also recommend annual flu vaccinations for children. “It is not a part of the universal immunisation schedule here yet. But we always tell parents that it does offer some protection,” said Kanchi Kamakoti Childs Trust Hospital medical director Dr S Balasubramanian.
Meanwhile, the IMA had urged the Centre to ensure vaccine stocks are replenished.
“We were told stocks will be available in three weeks. The season may end by then, but we have told doctors the only possible solution now is to make the drug of choice oseltamivir available. Besides patients bedside contacts should be given the drug as prevention. Nurses and staff should also be given protective gear such as N95 masks,” he said.