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Florida Seniors Take Flu Shot Cruise To The Bahamas - January 1-, 2004 – 18: 1
'People in the Bahamas dont get flu vaccines, she said. Thats why we have a surplus available to us. Were happy to help.'

FREEPORT, GRAND BAHAMA Hundreds of Florida senior citizens and at-risk adults, anxious over U.S. vaccine shortages, are paying for a private cruise to the Bahamas this month to get their flu shots.

Organizers said 313 people had taken the Flu Vaccination Cruise to Freeport, Grand Bahama Island on the Discovery Cruise Line as of Wednesday. Hundreds more will take the cruise today, next Tuesday and Wednesday, and for the rest of the month.

Im doing this because I cant find a flu shot anywhere else, said cruise passenger David L. Weiss, 40, of Tampa. Before I started getting my flu shots three years ago, I had the flu every year. It was awful.

Weiss said recent press accounts of the U.S. shortage had heightened his fear of missing the annual shot.

It wouldnt be life or death if I missed it, but it would be a nuisance, Weiss said. I would have the flu. I would miss three days of work and suffer great aggravation.

Anna Hall, a Freeport nurse and midwife who was administering the flu shots Wednesday to cruise-goers, said senior citizens are especially in need of the vaccine.

Theyre just like babies all over again, Hall said. They are especially vulnerable to the cold weather.

Two brothers from Homosassa Springs, both in their early 70s, beamed in satisfaction as Hall administered their shots in a side room next to U.S. Customs at the dock. Although the brothers wanted to remain anonymous, they talked openly of their fears.

These vaccinations are very important when youre getting up in the years like we are, said the younger brother, 70. There have been shots offered in our county, but they disappear in a heartbeat. Thats why were here. We dont want to die of a flu.

That felt good, said the older brother, 73, as he walked away on his crutches.

A Florida-based transport/travel company, Immediate Services, is sponsoring the vaccination cruise. About 800 shots were still available Wednesday, at an overall cruise cost of $162 and can be reserved by calling 1-800-937-4477.

Marketing director Espin Tandberg said his company, whose major projects include Miamis new high-speed ferry, got the idea for the cruise from recent news stories of U.S. citizens traveling from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia for shots.

With the need in Florida, we figured people would want to combine a vaccine with a nice cruise, Tandberg said.

Floridas supply of flu shots has lagged far behind the demand this year. Six thousand free vaccines disappeared within 48 hours at a Get Health Florida fair in Central Florida last week, and 3,000 more were given out Wednesday in Seminole County.

Meanwhile, Tandberg has contracted for more than a thousand Fluarix brand flu shots, imported from Europe, via Coral Pharmaceuticals.

The owner of Coral Pharmaceuticals, based in Freeport and Nassau, said she thinks U.S. import regulations may have something to do with the shortage.

I dont know if the shortage is a perceived shortage or an actual shortage, Carleta Jervis Carolina, also a registered pharmacist, told the Boca News. I personally believe that the FDA rules on what can be imported into the U.S. are having a big effect.

Carolina added that its only natural for the Bahamas to begin supplying vaccines to residents of the Southwestern United States, since Canada has already been supplying the northern part of the country.

People in the Bahamas dont get flu vaccines, she said. Thats why we have a surplus available to us. Were happy to help.

A Canadian-born cruise assistant on the Discovery Sun, asked her opinion of the Florida vaccine cruise occurring this month on board her ship, had a less flattering take.

I think its the most ridiculous, American thing Ive ever heard, said the young woman, who wanted to remain anonymous. There are plenty of flu shots for those in the U.S. who need them. The shortage is just media hype.

Sean Salai, Boca Raton News