With plans for an Islandwide flu clinic a month off, heightened demand for flu vaccinations and slow distribution statewide are causing a temporary shortage of the vaccine for many Island suppliers.

As the threat of the typical flu season meets concerns over fall coronavirus outbreaks, recent statements from the Center for Disease Control have strongly advised all Americans six months and older to be vaccinated for the flu. In addition, an August mandate from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health formally requires all children six months or older who attend child care or schooling of any kind to be vaccinated this year.

But increased desire for the vaccine has posed problems for Island flu shot providers — from the hospital to local pharmacies — who are struggling to keep up with demand.

At Vineyard Scripts, a family-run pharmacy in Vineyard Haven, president David Perzanowski said vaccination appointments are almost entirely booked through the end of the month, with only a few open spots remaining and new appointment inquiries streaming in every day. On average, the pharmacy has been administering 20 vaccines each day, he said.

Mr. Perzanowski said he pre-ordered about 320 high-dosage vaccines for the pharmacy in March (recommended for people over 65 or with other complicating health factors), but as of Tuesday, he had gone through the entire supply. “Everybody wants their [vaccine] much earlier, in expectation of another vaccine. That’s the reason things are so crazy this year in my opinion,” said Mr. Perzanowski.

Plans for an Island-wide flu clinic are in the works for late October/early November. — Ray Ewing

Tamara Hersh, a pharmacist and owner of Conroy Apothecary in West Tisbury, said the pharmacy has been vaccinating 30 or more people a day, every day since August 13 — almost 1,200 vaccines total.

Ms. Hersh said this year she ordered 10 per cent more vaccine than in past year, but as of Tuesday, the pharmacy had run through its three-month supply of both high and regular dosages in just four weeks. Due the high volume of requests and uncertainty of supply, Conroy is currently accepting same-day appointments only, she said.

“I’ve never seen this much demand for the flu shot, especially with older people. My phone is ringing off the hook,” said Ms. Hersh, who attributed the increased demand in part to the many seasonal residents staying on-Island this winter.

Stop and Shop pharmacy in Edgartown has been temporarily out of the high dose vaccine since the last week of September, according to a message on the pharmacy’s answering machine.

Pharmacists hope to replenish their supplies in the next few weeks, but with pharmaceutical companies and drug manufacturers overwhelmed by demand, some said they weren’t certain when the vaccine would be back in stock. “I anticipate that more will be rolled out there’ll be more available for my wholesaler, but I can’t positively say that that’s true and I can’t say when they will be available,” said Ms. Hersh.

Issues with distribution also complicated vaccine delivery early on, Ms. Hersh said. “The doses that I did order from certain manufacturers were not available,” she said, noting that she had pre-ordered the vaccine nine months in advance. “I was scrambling around trying to replace what I pre-ordered with what was available . . . [because] they went to other distribution centers or wholesalers and not to mine.”

Ms. Hersh did not know the reason for the distribution challenges. “There’s not a lot of information out there,” she said. “I think there is just a general shortage.”

A representative at Stop and Shop pharmacy noted similar challenges.

At the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, health officials this week announced plans to add extended hours to the hospital flu clinic. The clinic, which offers vaccinations by appointment or in a drive-through style format, is currently open to Islanders who receive pediatric or primary care from a hospital physician.

“The clinic is for our patients who have PCPs here and that’s because of the limits on the number of vaccines we have available,” said hospital president and chief executive officer Denise Schepici. “We’re just trying to be careful and make sure we have enough for everyone.”

Shortages of certain vaccine dosages are not unusual for this time of year, Ms. Schepici said, noting that the vaccine normally rolls out piecemeal over the course of the fall. But increased demand so early in the season has left supply gaps statewide this year.

“I think probably with the scare from coronavirus, the demand is being driven up a little bit, which is not a bad thing, but supply and demand don’t always meet,” said Ms. Schepici. Hospital chief operating officer Claire Seguin agreed. “The push to get a flu vaccine was a little earlier this year, so the drug companies normally plan for October and November. They are working hard to catch up with that demand,” she said. On the Vineyard, plans for a larger-scale Islandwide flu clinic hosted by the hospital in partnership with the Island boards of health are in the works for late October or early November, hospital officials confirmed. Dates for the clinic remain to be decided.

Tisbury health agent Maura Valley, who is involved in organizing this year’s clinic, said the hospital and boards of health will receive a pre-determined supply of vaccine from the state — free of charge — to vaccinate minors and those not sufficiently covered by insurance. The clinic has also ordered a supply of high and low-dose vaccine from private manufacturers, she said.

Dates for the clinic will be set once Island health officials have a better picture about vaccine availability statewide, according to Ms. Valley said. “We’re waiting to make sure that we have the vaccine that we’re going to need,” she said.

Meanwhile, with vaccine availability low on the Island, and weeks remaining until the clinic rolls out, some Islanders are considering other options.

Shirley Kennedy, a Vineyard Haven resident in her late 80s, told the Gazette that after being turned away multiple times from the hospital and struggling to book an appointment at a pharmacy, she is considering going to Falmouth to get vaccinated.

“When you pay a lot for your [health] coverage . . . and I can’t get a flu shot, it just doesn’t seem right,” Ms. Kennedy said. “Now, do I have to go on the boat? Do I have to expose myself by being a walk-on on the boat to get my flu shot?”

In the short-term, hospital administrators and pharmacy managers urged patience. “We will make [the vaccines] available as they become available,” Ms. Seguin said.