2001-12-05 / Seniors

Senior Spotlight

By John Toscano


Lawmakers Seek Vaccine Shortage Cause

Medical authorities say the best time to be vaccinated against the flu is between October and Mid-November. That period is gone and some seniors, who are most at risk for the flu, still haven’t gotten their flu shots.

On Monday, Congressmember Joseph Crowley hosted a flu vaccination fair at the Sunnyside Senior Center in Sunnyside, in conjunction with professionals from Elmhurst Hospital/Queens Health Network. The fair was supposed to have been held in October but was postponed because of a shortage of flu vaccine, he said.

"This is unacceptable," Crowley said. "Influenza is a very serious virus, causing 20,000 deaths each year in America. The manufacturers of these vaccines need to answer the question, ‘Why did seniors have to risk their health by waiting so long?’"

The Elmhurst lawmaker continued: "What is particularly tragic about the flu is that thousands of deaths could be prevented by vaccinations. While 65 percent of seniors receive the flu shot, millions more remain unprotected—even though the vaccinations are often free under Medicare."

Trying to get some answers about what’s behind the flu vaccine shortage, which has happened in the past, Crowley, joined by his colleagues, Congressmembers Nita Lowey (D–Queens/ Westchester) and Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan), wrote a letter to the three firms which manufacture the vaccine.

Crowley (D–Queens/ Bronx) said the letter asks that the companies deliver the vaccines that were ordered by the city Department of the Health and other local providers as quickly as possible.

By a stroke of good luck, the area has been blessed with unseasonably warm weather through November and now into December. The balmy temperature won’t last forever, though, so it is to be hoped that Crowley and his colleagues can get the flu vaccine manufacturers to overcome whatever difficulties are keeping them from getting vaccine delivered on time. Many lives depend upon the vaccines.

WARNING ABOUT COLD WEATHER: The good weather we’ve been having could turn cold—very cold—abruptly, so it would be wise to heed the warning put out by Commissioner Herbert Stupp, of the city’s Department for the Aging (DFTA).

Stupp warns seniors to protect themselves against hypothermia, a condition that can be caused by the cold and result in serious illness.

Hypothermia is caused by lost body heat, Stupp explains, and older people are more susceptible to it than others. Cold weather can also cause frostbite and weakened resistance to illness, he says.

Hypothermia symptoms are: shivering, numbness, drowsiness, confusion and coordination difficulties. This is a serious condition, requiring medical attention immediately. Call your doctor or go to the nearest health care facility.

To help prevent hypothermia, Stupp says, wear layers of warm clothing. Wool is especially good because it traps warm air near the body.

Drink warm liquids such as tea, coffee, apple cider, hot chocolate soup. Alcoholic beverages are not good. "They make you feel warm, but they do not keep your body warm," Stupp says.

Stop drafts by repairing and insulating windows, doors and air conditioners. If you have a low monthly income or live in a one- to four-unit dwelling, you may be able to get financial help to correct building conditions through WRAP (Weatherization Referral and Packaging Program). Call (212) 442-3055 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., to inquire.

Some medications can hamper the body’s ability to regulate its temperature, so check with your doctor to see if your medication is having this effect.

Prepare for snow and other really bad weather by keeping a two- or three-day supply of nonperishable food on hand, so you don’t have to go out to shop.

Stupp also asks New Yorkers to look out for elderly neighbors. Check on them from time to time to make sure they’re all right and, if not, try to help in whatever way possible—shovel snow or do food shopping for them.

"Your concern can help get them through the winter and may even save a life," Stupp says.

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