Due to recent flu vaccine shortages, several Santa Barbara County hospitals and clinics have formed a coalition and pooled together the available doses to ensure that the area’s highest-risk patients are immunized.

This year’s nationwide shortage stems from a contamination that affected the entire stock of flu vaccine produced by biopharmaceutical manufacturer Chiron Corp., causing a 75 percent drop in the number of vaccinations available this year. The coalition will reallocate the local supply of vaccine in an attempt to create a more even distribution of doses around the county.

Susan Forkush, director of health education for the SB County Public Health Dept. (SBCPHD), said the county used approximately 42,000 doses of flu vaccine last year, but she only expects 10,000 to 12,000 to be delivered this year.

“The coalition has worked beautifully to assist each other, which allowed us to have the community flu centers,” Forkush said.

With only a quarter of the anticipated flu vaccinations available, Forkush said the SBCPHD wants to make sure people most at risk of getting sick are helped first.

Immunization clinics will be held in Santa Maria, Goleta and Lompoc for those most susceptible to the disease. Forkush said there will be a screening process at the clinics to ensure those being vaccinated fall into the high-risk category. She said top priority for the vaccine will be given to people over 75 years of age, followed by people over 65 years of age with chronic health problems, and finally all those over the age of 2 with chronic health problems.

The first clinic will be held Nov. 15 at the Mussell Senior Center on 510 E. Park St. in Santa Maria from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Two other clinics will be held on Nov. 17; one at the Goleta Community Center on 5679 Hollister Ave. from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the other at the Lompoc Community Center on 1501 E. Ocean Ave. from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Forkush said the vaccinations at the clinics will be free, but the SBCPHD will be asking for $10 donations.

County Health Officer Elliot Schulman said the hospitals and clinics in the area were receptive to the idea of sharing the vaccine.

“Everyone pooled together to get the most vulnerable people immunized,” Schulman said. “It was a community thought process. People weren’t being selfish with the vaccine.”

Participants in the redistribution include: SBCPHD, Cottage Health System, Marian Medical Center, Lompoc District Hospital, Valley Medical Group, Sansum-Santa Barbara Medical Foundation Clinic, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, UCSB Student Health, American Indian Health and Services, Santa Ynez Tribal Health Clinic and Westmont College.

Schulman said even with the coalition’s efforts, he expects that some people in the high-risk group will not be able to get vaccinated.

“You can redistribute [the vaccine] but there is nothing you can do when there is simply a shortage of vaccine,” Schulman said.

Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital spokeswoman Janet O’Neil said the coalition is going to have to adapt to the reduced amount of vaccines.

“The people will be screened, and if a person is not at high risk or if more people show up, then the highest of the high-risk patients will be helped and the rest will be asked to forgo the vaccine,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil said the best way for people to avoid catching or spreading the flu is to wash their hands, cover their nose when they sneeze and stay home if they feel like they are coming down with the flu.