OLYMPIA – Vaccine for the H1N1 influenza virus became available this week in Thurston County, but only children, the children's families and medical professionals can get inoculated with the limited supply.
The first shipments of nasally administered vaccine have been sent to pediatric offices and large family health providers to target the groups most vulnerable to complications from the H1N1 virus, said Marianne Remy, public health preparedness coordinator with Thurston County Public Health and Social Services.
About 2,400 doses of the H1N1 vaccine were sent to clinics this week, said Sherri McDonald, director of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services.
“We want to get this into kids as soon as possible,” she said. “They are in close contact and they aren’t always practicing good hygiene. They also easily transmit flu to everyone else.”
The federal Food and Drug Administration has licensed the vaccine for people ages 2 to 49, McDonald said. Most people with complications from the H1N1 flu have been younger than 50, she said.
The so-called swine flu illness has not been more severe than seasonal flu, but it’s more contagious. Because humans haven’t had the illness before, fewer people are immune.
Pregnant women and babies younger than 6 months are at the highest risk for complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Children and adults through age 24 also are considered high risk because people at those ages often are in close contact with one another, which gives viruses a better chance to spread, the CDC reported.
People ages 25 to 64 who have chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems also will be among the first to be inoculated.
The nasally administered vaccine is not recommended for children younger than 2 or for pregnant women, but they will have priority when the flu shot arrives in Thurston County, Remy said.
HEALTH CARE WORKERS
Capital Medical Center and Providence St. Peter Hospital have received about 100 doses each of the nasal spray vaccine and are offering it to employees who have direct contact with patients.
Officials at both hospitals said the targeting is aimed at both keeping staff members healthy and preventing the spread of the disease to patients. Neither hospital is requiring staff members to get vaccinated.
Providence St. Peter Hospital, which has more than 2,000 employees, is giving its first shipment of vaccine to employees and physicians who work with children and pregnant women, said spokeswoman Jennifer Reynolds Sanchez.
She said pregnant employees and physicians will not be inoculated with the spray vaccine but will have priority when the traditional flu shot is available.
James Kaech, Capital Medical Center’s director of occupational medicine and employee health, said employees who work in registration, the emergency room and the laboratory and those who care for women and respiratory patients are first in line to get the inoculations. He said medical center officials hope to have enough for all of the hospital’s approximately 400 employees within a few weeks.
Leigh Dickerson, services supervisor in radiology, said that she had no qualms about getting the nasal spray for H1N1.
“I work in direct patient contact, and I don’t want to get them sick,” she said. “And it wasn’t a shot, so how can you complain?”
SURVEILLANCE OF SYMPTOMS
In Thurston County, one pregnant woman and two adults with lung disease are hospitalized with complications from H1N1, McDonald said. All are recovering.
The Tenino and Rochester school districts both have reported more than 10 percent of students being out with flu-like symptoms, McDonald said.
People with fever, cough and sore throat no longer are routinely tested for H1N1, she said.
On Wednesday, Rochester reported about 14 percent of its students were out with those symptoms, and the number might be rising, McDonald said. In Tenino, about 15 percent of students have been out sick this week, down from 34 percent last week, she said.
At The Evergreen State College, 28 students, staff members and faculty members have reported flu-like symptoms since Sept. 18, college spokesman Jason Wettstein said. About 10 are students, he said.