Monday, October 5, 2009

Flu shots for travelers may not be a good idea, doctor warns Tampa airport

By Steve Huettel, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Friday, October 2, 2009

TAMPA — Tampa International Airport officials are having second thoughts about offering seasonal flu shots to travelers on their way to catch a flight. Or at least about how a vendor began doing it Thursday.

Dr. Joseph Diaco warned fellow members of the airport's governing board Thursday morning that airline passengers given the vaccine shouldn't be stuck in a plane in case they have adverse reactions and need to see a doctor.

"How do you do that at 30,000 feet?" asked Diaco, a surgeon who served as Tampa Bay Buccaneers team doctor for 33 years before retiring this year. "I don't think it's necessary for the airport to be a part of this "

He suggested that the company giving the shots, FLU*Ease of suburban Chicago, specifically warn travelers preparing to get on a plane about the risk of a reaction and give them postcards to mail back and report any problems.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board told executive director Louis Miller to meet with company officials about changing procedures for outbound travelers.

Life-threatening and other serious reactions to influenza vaccine are very rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More typical symptoms are soreness where the shot was given, fever, aches and hoarseness. They usually begin soon after the shot and last a day or two, the agency says.

FLU*Ease nurses began giving flu shots Thursday under a two-month pilot program with the airport. They are administering seasonal influenza shots from kiosks in the airport's main terminal and four airside terminals. Shots cost $35 to the public, with $1 going to the aviation authority.

Miller said 28 airports around the nation, including all three New York metro airports and Orlando's airport, are offering the shots. The airport isn't liable for injury claims from the shots, he said.

Everyone receiving a shot must fill out a short form asking medical histories and warning of possible reactions. Nurses ask customers taking their first flu shot to wait near the kiosk 15 to 20 minutes, said Miller.

Dr. John Zautcke, medical director at FLU*Ease, tried to find instances of travelers who suffered severe reactions to flu shots in flight after a Chicago doctor raised the issue about 10 years ago.

"There's nothing in the medical literature of anyone having a severe reaction more than a couple minutes" after a vaccine injection, he said.

Diaco said reactions can take anywhere from a few minutes to four hours to show up after a shot.

His 93-year-old mother in Belleair was bedridden with flu symptoms after getting a free flu shot at a grocery store, he said.

"Going to get on an airplane after a flu shot is almost reckless," said Diaco. "While I think this is convenient, it is not the most efficacious thing at an airport."

Board member Steven Burton, a Tampa commercial litigation lawyer, suggested the airport ask FLU*Ease to suspend giving shots to outbound passengers.

Shots are also available to airport employees and people meeting passengers. But the business is targeted at travelers waiting to take flights after clearing security checkpoints, Miller said.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said suspending the vaccinations would alarm people at precisely the wrong time.

"This is not the best message we want to send out when we're encouraging people to get flu vaccinations and swine flu (shots) later," she said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at or (813) 226-3384.

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