By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/11/2003 8:15:41 PM ET 2003-12-12T01:15:41

The flu in America is spreading fast and the vaccines are disappearing even faster.  So the Federal government is moving in to buy up another quarter million doses to make sure they get to the people most in need.  The flu has now hit hard in 24 states - twice as many as last week.

AT THE ALBANY, New York Medical Center Thursday, flu shots were so scarce they were going only to staff that has direct contact with patients.  One staff member said: "I want to make sure the kids I work with don't get sick."

In Chicago Thursday, people waited for shots in 26-degree temperatures.
Responding to the widespread shortages, the United States government announced that it has managed to buy an additional 150,000 pediatric and 100,000 adult doses of vaccine but admitted that is really a drop in the bucket.

"100,000 doses is small compared to the 83-million we started out with, but by focusing it into the high-risk populations those doses can make a difference," said Dr. Julie Gerberding of the Centers For Disease Control.

As late as Thursday afternoon, the CDC website said "Most people ... can get vaccinated."
But now there's an urgent new focus.  "The highest priority right now are people over 65, people with chronic medical conditions, children between the ages of six and 23 months and pregnant women in their second and third trimester," Dr. Gerberding added.

Some experts say the CDC should have acted sooner.  Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Center said, "It would have been nice of have done this a week ago."

The outbreak is now widespread in 24 states with infections reported in all the others
And some of those others have clear evidence of flu.  The entire St. Johnsville, New York school district shut down Thursday because so many kids have the flu.

Some schools are also closed in the Cincinnati area.  "Just as we saw in the southwest now we're seeing a high burden of illness in the Midwest and in the east-and even some deaths," Dr. Poland added.

The deaths reported Thursday included Jeffery Donohue, an 18-year old student at Worchester College in Massachusetts.

Government officials emphasize that for most people the flu is an inconvenience, not a fatal illness. Still the evidence points to a very bad flu season which is far from hitting its peak.

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