Responding to a critical shortage of flu shots in New Haven, the University has transferred 5,000 doses of the influenza virus vaccine to the city for distribution to high-risk patients.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and University Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander, along with health officials for local clinics and the city, announced the transfer in a press conference yesterday at Hill Health Center. They said the shots will be administered only to people at high risk for complications resulting from the flu, specifically those over the age of 65, children under two years old and people with chronic diseases.

New Haven Health Department Director William Quinn said the University’s action is crucial to combating the potentially fatal virus in the city. He said 36,000 people die each year in the United States from the flu.

“This is going to save lives,” Quinn said. “It’s that simple.”

Quinn said the transfer increases the city’s number of available shots from 1,200 to 6,200.

This year’s national shortage of flu vaccinations resulted from the British government’s temporary suspension of major supplier Chiron Corp.’s manufacturing license. Yale gets its flu shots from a competing firm, Avantis Corp., and therefore received its regular supply.

Hill Health Center chief operating officer Gary Spinner released a statement thanking both Yale and Mayor DeStefano for providing the vaccine. He said the clinic, which serves over 26,000 people, had only one day of shots left prior to the transfer.

“People have been calling us daily, and now, thanks to the Mayor’s leadership and the willingness of the University to help assure that those with the greatest need — our elderly patients and those with chronic illness — we will have enough to give shots to our high-risk patients,” Spinner said in the written statement.

The shots were provided to the city at cost, approximately $10 each.

University spokesman Tom Conroy said Yale decided to share its supply because the University had more vaccine than needed to serve the at-risk student population as defined by the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We did this because the city is in very significant need of vaccine to be able to serve residents of the city who meet the CDC criteria,” Conroy said. “The University made the ethical decision that — utilized the available vaccine in the most effective way, which is to ensure it goes to the people with greatest risk of complication of flu.”

Several weeks ago, University Health Services director Paul Genecin said Yale students who are not at risk for flu complications may not be able to get vaccinated this year because some of UHS’ supply might have to be shared with local health-care providers.

DeStefano said he thought the transfer was a sign that cooperation between the city and the University was working to benefit New Haven residents.

“They don’t have to rely on the ineptitude of the federal government and the private sector here,” DeStefano said. “What has not worked well at the national level is working in New Haven.”

After the press conference, the first of the doses was administered to New Haven resident Ricardo Mendez, who said he gets a shot every year because of his asthma and high blood pressure.

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