H1N1 vaccine doses slowly trickling in

October 20, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Jim Downing wants to get his son vaccinated against the H1N1 virus, commonly called swine flu, as soon as possible.

His son is chronically ill and medically fragile, with a history of pneumonia and an extensive surgical history.

"From all information we've been able to gather, it would be exceedingly dangerous for our son to contract the virus," Downing said Tuesday.

A compromised immune system would make it difficult for his son to survive the H1N1 strain of flu, Downing said.

In navigating the health care system, however, Downing has been unsuccessful in locating the vaccine. A case manager for his son's health organization told the family it could go to a clinic at a Baltimore school last week, but Downing didn't want to risk standing in the rain for two hours for only a chance of his son getting the vaccine, he said.

His son's doctor in Frederick, Md., also doesn't have the vaccine, Downing said.


Because of his health problems, his son must have the injectable dose, not the mist version, Downing said.

As of Tuesday, 232,000 doses had been sent to Maryland, said David Paulson, communications director for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. That figure includes the number ordered today that will be received later this week, he said.

The Washington County Health Department ordered 8,300 doses of the vaccine. Of that, 8,000 will be in the nasal spray form. As of Monday, the department had received 1,100 doses, said Melissa Lewis, director of health policy and planning for the health department.

Other entities, including hospitals, doctors' offices, long-term-care facilities and correctional institutions, can order the vaccines, Paulson said.

Washington County Hospital ordered 4,700 doses, said Maureen Theriault, a spokeswoman for Washington County Health System, the parent organization of Washington County Hospital. By Tuesday, the hospital had received 300 doses, all of which were used for staff members, she said.

"Our first obligation is to health care providers," she said.

When the other doses arrive, they will be used for staff and inpatients, she said.

At least one private doctor's office contacted by The Herald-Mail ordered the vaccine and has received at least half of its order. Other offices have ordered the vaccine but not yet received their shipments.

Paulson on Monday explained the distribution process.

He said health officials have determined the number of residents in each state who are members of the target groups -- those ages 6 months to 24 years; families and caretakers of those younger than 6 months; pregnant women; and people ages 25 to 64 with health conditions associated with higher risks of medical complications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its distributor tell the states each day how many doses of the vaccine they are allowed to order.

"We order all of it, don't leave a drop," Paulson said.

Maryland officials distribute the vaccines to counties based on the number of people in the target populations.

"You get what your county would have by percentage of the state population of target groups," he said.

The vaccines are sent in lots of 100 straight to the agencies that ordered them, Paulson said.

Maryland officials were initially told they could expect to receive 1 million doses of the vaccine by the end of October. That number has been lowered twice, and now Marylanders should expect no more than 550,000 doses this month, he said.

For now, the Washington County Health Department is focusing on those in prekindergarten through fifth grade, and health care workers, Lewis said.

When the health department gets more of the H1N1 vaccine, it will hold mass vaccination clinics for the public after the priority groups are vaccinated, she said.

When clinics are held, the health department will advertise which of the populations the clinics are geared toward, she said.

Lewis urged people to stay in contact with their doctors, call the flu hot line or check the health department's Web site.

On Tuesday, the health department began administering vaccines through the schools.

A schools spokesman said 62 students received the vaccination at Hancock Elementary School and 86 students were vaccinated at Winter Street Elementary School.

Students at other elementary schools will be vaccinated as more doses become available, Washington County Public Schools spokesman Richard Wright said. Paramount and Pleasant Valley elementary schools are tentatively scheduled to receive the vaccine today.

"That might change," Wright said. "Everything is tentative until the (Washington County) Health Department confirms."

Wright said students will not receive the vaccination, which is being administered as a nasal mist, if their parents declined to sign a consent form.

"No one will get it without authorization," Wright said.

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