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Thousands of Flu Vaccine Doses Unused, Costing Tax Dollars

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Health Departments prepare each year with a supply of flu vaccines, but what happens when those vaccines reach their expiration date. NBC 5 Investigates Chris Coffey reports. (Published Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014)

    Health departments want to keep you free of the flu, and each year they spend your tax dollars purchasing vaccines. But an NBC 5 Investigates analysis of three years' worth of flu vaccine data from the city and suburbs revealed thousands of doses went unused.

    During the 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 flu seasons, Chicago area health departments purchased 135,252 flu vaccines. A total of 14,742 doses were wasted or expired, according to public records. Individual vaccines typically expire several months after a flu season is expected to end.  

    However, some health departments argue doses may go unused because there are more locations for the public to choose from to receive their flu shots, including doctors’ offices or pharmacy clinics.

    The flu is one of the biggest threats to public health. It killed 100 people in Illinois during the 2013-2014 flu season and sent 784 people to hospitals, according to the Illinois Department of Health.

    Flu Table
    Local GovernmentYearPurchasedUnusedCredit for Unused
    Chicago2011-1232,9000full credit
    2012-1347,8505,774full credit
    2013-1414,6000full credit
    Cook County2011-12780336n/a
    2012-1378073n/a
    2013-14780265n/a
    Dekalb County2011-122,510173full credit
    2012-131,84063full credit
    2013-141,82034full credit
    Dupage County2011-122,3501,581excise tax credit
    2012-132,731691excise tax credit
    2013-142,471789excise tax credit
    Grundy County2011-12500177partial credit
    2012-1338084partial credit
    2013-1435018partial credit
    Kane County2011-122,5001,430partial credit
    2012-137000partial credit
    2013-141,600632partial credit
    Kankakee County2011-128100excise tax credit
    2012-1392097excise tax credit
    2013-146000excise tax credit
    Kendall County2011-12230n/apartial credit
    2012-1322058partial credit
    2013-1422061partial credit
    Lake County2011-121,10022n/a
    2012-131,05099n/a
    2013-141,120131n/a
    Lasalle County2011-121,400515full credit & excise credit
    2012-131,01063full credit & excise credit
    2013-141,15098full credit & excise credit
    Mchenry County2011-121,2000partial credit
    2012-131,0000partial credit
    2013-141,0000partial credit
    Will County2011-121,800491partial credit
    2012-131,600481partial credit
    2013-141,380506partial credit

    Medical professionals insist there is still time to receive a flu shot. The Cook County Department of Public Health recommends that everyone six months of age and older get a flu vaccine and that people with flu symptoms stay home 24 hours after the fever is gone (without the use of a fever-reducing medicine) to help curb the spread of illness.

    Recent history shows the message appears to be getting through to the public in McHenry County. The public health department reports it has used every flu vaccine it has purchased during the past three flu seasons. McHenry County’s public health department ranks first in our analysis for how little vaccine is wasted.

    “We try to plan things so that we’ve got enough vaccines but not too much and we start as early as the supply allows to start to make sure people are protected early,” said Michael Hill of the McHenry County Department of Health.

    Records show the Chicago Health Department uses most of its flu vaccines. It holds numerous flu shot clinics.

    “We educate the public on how important it is to get the vaccine,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Julie Morita. “We encourage them to seek it out.”

    Flu shot usage varies by county. According to information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the DuPage County Health Department reported 41 percent of its flu vaccines went unused during the past three flu seasons. But the county said it returns unused flu vaccines and receives $7.50 per package back in excise taxes.

    Flu vaccine costs range from about $10 to about $20 a dose. The unused vaccines may have cost Chicago area taxpayers at least $147,000 since 2011. However, some departments said they return expired vaccines to the manufacturers for partial or full credit toward future vaccines.

    The Illinois Department of Public Health does not require local health departments to report their usage numbers. A spokesperson said while the state works with local departments and shares best practices, there are no plans for increased oversight of the vaccines bought by individual health departments.

    “It certainly makes sense for a state to look into the use of the vaccine to determine if there’s any guidance that they might be able to provide to improve usage,” said Dr. Mark Dworkin of the UIC School of Public Health.

    In addition to getting vaccinated, residents are urged to practice the three C’s to help reduce the spread of illness. Clean: Properly wash your hands frequently. Cover: Cover your cough and sneeze. Contain: Contain your germs by staying home if you are sick.