WASHINGTON – Seniors around the nation are standing in long lines hoping to get flu shots, but guess who didn’t have to: their congressmen.

Even though many members of the Senate and House aren’t considered high-risk by standards being used to decide who gets a vaccine, Capitol physician John Eisold inoculated lawmakers after the shortage was announced Oct. 5.

“(Dr. Eisold) considers members of Congress high-risk and always has … for the simple reason that they shake hands, they meet scores of people and carry (diseases) back to their districts,” said his spokesman.

Senators, although it was not clear exactly how many, got poked in a clinic on Oct. 7 held in the office of Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., sources said.

“Some got the shot and some didn’t,” said a congressional source. Frist, who is a heart surgeon, was among those who got one of the scarce flu vaccinations, his office said.

Even though Eisold thinks they are at risk, elected officials aren’t on the priority list issued last week by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The CDC recommended only Americans at greatest health risk of dying from the flu virus get vaccinated.

Besides those with chronic diseases or who are pregnant, the CDC on Oct. 14 said: “People 2 to 64 years of age are asked to postpone or skip getting a flu shot this year.”

The average age of a senator in the 108th Congress is 59 years, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson tried again Tuesday to minimize the political fallout over the vaccine shortage by announcing the sole manufacturer, Aventis, will produce almost 3 million extra doses by January, for a total of 60 million available this flu season.

About 24 million doses will soon be distributed to clinics and stocks of antiviral meds will be ready to treat 40 million people stricken, he added.

Thompson turned his news conference into a stump speech for President Bush when he answered Democrat John Kerry’s criticism that the administration dropped the ball.

“No president or administration has invested more in the flu than this one,” Thompson said.

And in an embarrassing twist for an administration that has refused to allow the importation of pharmaceuticals from Canada, the Bush White House is now negotiating with Canada to buy some of its surplus vaccine.

Despite the administration’s opposition to Canadian drug imports, this time they’re ready to make an exception – U.S. officials are negotiating with Canada to acquire excess flu shot stocks, Thompson said.

During the second debate with Kerry, Bush said he hasn’t OK’d drug imports because “when a drug comes in from Canada, I want to make sure it cures you and doesn’t kill you.” Kerry has argued Bush is simply protecting the interests of fat cat donors in the U.S. drug industry.



(c) 2004, New York Daily News.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-10-19-04 2246EDT



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