Local hospitals distributing H1N1 vaccine

October 6, 2009 The first doses were given to some children and healthcare workers on Tuesday morning.

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Authorities say they are determined to stay ahead of H1N1 virus this flu season so they've decided to distribute the vaccines as they get them. The nasal variety is less tested but considered essentially as effective as the injectable vaccine. But who gets it and when depends on who is giving it out.

In the 50-year-old Fantus clinic of Stroger Hospital, there's an attempt to banish winter's sniffles.

Tysean Davis and his sister were brought to Stroger by their mother who thought getting the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 nasal spray was the convenient thing to do. It's what the clinic supervisor says patients are clamoring for.

"Kids, our patients, we are going to get the greatest impact not by hitting our personnel some of whom would not be eligible," said Dr. Jay Mayefsky, Stroger Hospital.

But that's not what's happening where kids are the entire patient roster. At Children's Memorial they figure inoculating the care givers is the thing to do with the first batches of H1N1 received on Monday. The nasal vaccine has an attenuated or weakened virus in it that hospital dismisses as a threat to the vulnerable.

"They are slightly contagious but it is the amount is very small and so there isn't a huge concern about transmission of the virus to another person," said Jenny Elhadary, pharmacy administrator.

So in the kids hospital they're treating the adults first, and at the biggest public hospital they're going after the kids.

The woman in charge of the county's entire approach to the question says flexibility is key. And after last spring's scare over seriousness of H1N1, Dr. Sharon Welbel says the public health apparatus of the country was kicked into action, and had it not been for such timing, H1N1 likely would have been identified and integrated into this year's seasonal flu shot.

"In general, fortunately, it is a mild disease but we do still of course want to prevent that because based on sheer numbers there are going to be a lot of people who are going to be infected just as we have already been seeing," said Dr. Sharon Welbel, infectious disease specialist.

The nasal vaccine is available to people from ages to two to 49. Pregnant women can't take it and it can't be taken with the nasal version the seasonal flu vaccine which is now available. But you can take the injectable variety of either vaccine at the same time. So public health authorities are not equivocating -- they want you take the h1n1. The best advice is to talk to your doctor.

Here's what you need to know:

Q: Why not wait to start until there's enough for everybody instead of the confusing here-and-there vaccinations?

A: Even though Sunday was the official start of flu season, this H1N1 wasn't heeding the calendar -- it's already causing illness in nearly every state. That means getting vaccine to the people at highest risk is a race. So each week, states will distribute however much they have on hand.

Q: If factories are still racing vaccine out the door, how can I be sure it's safe?

A: The Food and Drug Administration clears batches of vaccine before they're released. The H1N1 vaccine is made in the same way as the regular winter flu vaccine that is used with very few, minor side effects by nearly 100 million Americans a year. There's no biological reason the H1N1 vaccine should react any differently, and no red flags have appeared in studies of several thousand people.

"What I want people to know is that no corners have been cut at all," said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Q: Why is the nasal-spray vaccine arriving before the shots, and can I use either one?

A: They're considered equally effective, but the maker of the squirt-in-the-nose FluMist was able to finish brewing sooner. There is an important difference, though. Flu shots, made of killed flu virus, are for anyone without an egg allergy. FluMist, besides the egg issue, is only for use in healthy people ages 2 to 49. It's made of live but weakened flu virus. So some people on the first-in-line list for H1N1 vaccine aren't eligible for FluMist.

Q: Who's first in line?

A: Pregnant women; the young, ages 6 months through 24 years; people younger than 64 who have conditions such as asthma or diabetes that increase the risk of complications from flu; health workers and caregivers of newborns.

Q: I thought flu was most dangerous to people 65 and older.

A: Regular winter flu is most dangerous to older adults, but the new H1N1 is predominantly striking the young.

Q: How many shots, or squirts, will I need?

A: Most people will need one dose each of the H1N1 vaccine and the regular winter flu vaccine. But health authorities believe children under 10 will need two doses of the H1N1 vaccine, about three weeks apart. And some very young children getting their first regular flu vaccination will need two doses of it, too, for a total a four inoculations.

Q: Can I get both types of vaccine at the same visit?

A: If you're lucky enough to find a provider who has both at the same time, a jab in each arm is OK, or a jab of one and a squirt of the other. If you opt for the FluMist version of each vaccine, however, you're supposed to wait three to four weeks between squirts.

Q: What if I'm not on the high-risk list and want H1N1 vaccine anyway?

A: Only some will be physically reserved, doses sent to schools or obstetricians, for example. But eventually enough is expected for everyone who wants it within just a few weeks. The government doesn't expect people to be turned away unless that day's supplies run out.

Q: What will it cost?

A: The H1N1 vaccine itself is free because the government bought it with your tax dollars. But providers can charge a small fee for administering it, usually about $20. Regular flu shots tend to cost up to $35.

Q: If H1N1 is the only kind of flu making people sick now, why do I need the regular shot?

A: Health authorities expect regular flu strains to start circulating, too, as it gets colder; seasonal flu typically peaks in January.

On the Net:

Flu information: http://www.flu.gov

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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