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Flu Vaccine in Short Supply After Rush for Shots in Rye Area

The director of the Sound Shore Medical Center Emergency Department calls the current flu situation an epidemic.

It's the coughing. The runny nose. The fever. The "I can't get out of bed" feeling.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that high flu activity is still continuing around the country, with influenza vaccines in short supply.

That echoes comments made by Dr. Joseph Ponticiello, the Emergency Department director at Sound Shore Medical Center in New Rochelle.

"Right now, we are looking at a flu epidemic," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

"We have been inundated with patients with flu and flu-like symptoms," he said.

Ponticiello said 154 people came to the hospital's emergency department Monday. That is a 30 percent increase over the number of people who normally come to the emergency room on a daily basis, he said, adding that it has been that way for the last couple of weeks.

Ponticiello said people are coming to the hospital with the initial flu symptoms of general fatigue and fever.

"We are picking up a fair amount of pneumonia also," he said.

Some patients, who have other medical issues, have been requiring intravenous fluids and chest x-rays.

Without hesitation, Ponticiello said, if people haven't already gotten flu shots, they should go ahead and get them.

"It's worth it," he said, "because you don't know what will happen in the next few months."

A report on ABC News said that flu activity is waning but the cold-weather virus could make a comeback.

Ponticiello said his department has tested over 120 people for the flu, with about 30 of those testing positive.

"I'm not sure if we've peaked yet," he said. "This moves across the country from west to east, so in the next week or two we will start to see a decline" in the number of patients.

Ken GiaQuinto, Business Manager at said they have run out of and then restocked the flu vaccine a couple of times in the last week or two. They are expecting a shipment of about 100 doses this morning and will start calling customers who have signed up on a list to receive the vaccine.

"We apologize that we ran out and have to put people on a list," GiaQuinto said. The store is working to get deliveries as quickly as possible. Last week a rush came in that wiped them out. Since they did not have enough for the demand, they have been asking customers to sign up on a list and leave their number. When the shipments come in they call people and set an appointment for 15 minute time slots throughout the day, to minimize waiting times. People can also call to be added to the list. 

"It’s a bad season and we want to vaccinate as many people as possible to lesson the risk for people who already compromised," GiaQuinto said of people who are already in poor health and can get much worse from the flu.

GiaQuinto said this week is the worst and he expects next week to get better in terms of demand. 

The Westchester County Department of Health said Tuesday that they are currently surveying pharmacies to determine vaccine availability.

"While individual locations may have used up their supply, the state assures us there is sufficient supply available from manufacturers. We also have links on our website where residents can find additional sources to call - both medical offices and pharmacies - and sources of vaccine for doctors and pharmacists who need additional supplies," said Westchester County spokesperson Caren Halbfinger. 

Open Door clinics in Port Chester, Ossining, Sleepy Hollow and Mount Kisco still had flu shots available as of Tuesday evening, according to their CMO, Dr. Daren Wu.

People in the area are also looking for more over-the-counter remedies for sore throat, runny nose and cough, according to Pat Patel, the pharmacist at the New Rochelle Prescription Center.

"People are buying lots of Lysol and Purell, too," Patel said.

Ponticiello said there are things one can do to help stave off getting the flu.

"The major thing is, if you are sick, stay home," he said. Other things that can be done include wiping down the phones, remote controls and game consoles—anything people handle.

"A lot of hand washing is a good idea," Ponticiello said.

He said it was a good idea to buy pocketbook-sized hand sanitizer and to use it frequently.

Anyone who wants to get a flu shot can call your primary-care physician, local pharmacy or check the HealthMap Vaccine Finder for locations based on ZIP Code. However, it would be best to call ahead to confirm if the vaccine is in stock.

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