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Shots of health

Local agencies preparing for swine flu vaccinations

September 20, 2009
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

Some people may need to get two flu shots this year. One for the seasonal flu and the other for the H1N1, the virus more widely known as swine flu.

Seasonal flu shots already are available in some places. Plans are being made for when and where inoculations of the separate H1N1 vaccine will be available.

The first cases of the H1N1 virus appeared in the U.S. in March and April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By the end of April, the federal government had declared a public health emergency. Cases of H1N1 have since been reported in all 50 states.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Nathan Littauer Hospital Employee Health/Infection Coordinator Sally Clemente, left, administers a seasonal flu shot to Mary Constantino, family nurse practitioner and infection control officer, at the hospital Thursday.

Fulton County Public Health Director Denise Frederick said involved agencies in the state were still planning, as of Wednesday, on how the swine flu vaccine will be distributed to the public.

Karen Levison, the director of Hamilton County Public Health and Nursing Services, said the state has to wait for the CDC to release the vaccine. Each state will get a certain amount of the vaccine, which it will then determine how to distribute to the counties and what people take priority in getting it.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the new swine flu vaccine Tuesday. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the vaccine's approval to Congress - and said she hopes to get the first limited supplies distributed early in October.

The bulk of vaccine will start arriving Oct. 15, and Sebelius said it should be available at 90,000 sites around the country. The government has ordered 195 million doses for now but may order more if needed, she said. Typically 100 million Americans seek the flu vaccine every year. Researchers have said one dose of the new swine flu vaccine looks strong enough to protect adults - and can begin protection within 10 days of the shot.

It is expected that pregnant women and children will take priority when it comes to who will be eligible to get the vaccine first. Levison said there has been some discussion of going through Obstetrician and Gynecologists to make sure pregnant women get the vaccine, which inoculates the unborn child as well.

Frederick said people who already have medical conditions compromising their health also will be high on the priority list. She said the people who have died of swine flu, similar to seasonal flu, normally have had some other condition compromising their health. The swine flu weakened their body to a point where it could no longer hold off the other problem.

Mary Constantino, family nurse practitioner and infection control officer at Nathan Littauer?Hospital in Gloversville, said those highest at risk for swine flu will be inoculated first.

In addition, young adults - up to age 24 - and health workers also will take priority for the swine flu vaccine.

"There are probably going to be too many people [in those categories] for the first wave of vaccine to get them all," Frederick said.

The vaccine, which protects against what doctors prefer to call the 2009 H1N1 flu strain, won't arrive all at once. About 45 million doses are expected by mid-October. That's why the government wants the people most likely to catch swine flu, and to suffer complications from it, to be first in line - including children and pregnant women.

Levison said pneumonia has proven to be fatal to some people who contracted swine flu. So it is recommended those eligible get the shot for pneumonia, as well.

She also said it was important for people to remember that in the vast majority of cases, swine flu is not fatal. For most people, it involves two or three days of feeling ill - maybe a small fever - and then it is over.

Constantino said patients seem to want basic information about the swine flu, such as who is most at risk for contracting the virus.

Debbie Voght, the community health educator with the Montgomery County Public Health Department, said right now, the concern about swine flu has hit a lull.

"When the flu season hits, we'll probably start hearing more about it from people," she said.

Frederick said senior citizens actually are emerging as the group least likely to contract swine flu. It seems that in the past, many people now over the age of 60 got a strain of the flu that makes them less susceptible to swine flu.

That is quite a change compared to the seasonal flu, when seniors are among the first groups targeted to get inoculated.

While swine flu has caused a great deal of concern, it has not stopped the process of making seasonal flu vaccines available.

Sue Kiernan, the vice president of development at Littauer, said the hospital ordered 3,500 to 4,000 inoculations for seasonal flu.

Constantino said the hospital provides vaccinations to employees and patients at its main location and throughout its primary care network.

The Public Health Departments will have seasonal flu shots available, but they are not primarily the provider of them. Many people who want an inoculation will be able to get one from their physician, at a business or at a clinic set up at a public place.

For now, the Public Health Departments will keep making sure people have the proper knowledge about how to combat the flu. They are stressing the importance of making sure people wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough.

"Just regular germ etiquette," Voght said.

Levison said the most important thing: "If you are not feeling well, stay home."

 
 

 

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