Swine flu vaccine availability increasing

OLYMPIA - South Sound adults and seniors now can schedule appointments and visit local pharmacies to get vaccinations to prevent the H1N1 influenza virus.

On Wednesday, Thurston County Public Health and Social Services lifted restrictions that had limited the H1N1 vaccine to school-aged children, teenagers and adults 24 and younger, as well as pregnant women and the chronically ill. Those groups were at most risk for complications related to the flu.

About 18 South Sound pharmacies now may offer the vaccine to everyone, Thurston County Health Officer Diana Yu said.

“They have about 200 doses each,” Yu said of the pharmacies. “We said we would open it to anyone who wants it as soon as we felt we had enough and we had reached the initial target population.”

She said the increased availability of the vaccine and the penetration into the targeted groups come at a good time, because health officials expect another wave of flu symptoms when children return to school from their winter breaks.

“It’s going to be holiday season and traveling season,” she said.

H1N1 flu is similar in severity to seasonal flu, but it is more contagious because humans haven’t built up immunity to it. Health officials expected a larger number of people to come down with flu symptoms this year than in the past three years.

Three people in Thurston County have died and 79 have been hospitalized because of complications from H1N1, county health officials report. The largest percentage of hospitalizations in the county has involved people ages 25 to 49, according to health department figures.

Yu said that at least 45,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine have been received in Thurston County, and most already have been administered.

Pediatricians and large doctor’s offices still can administer the vaccine to young children, and Capital Medical Center Occupational Medicine can offer the vaccine for children ages 6 months to 10 years.

Pharmacist Paul Martin, of Martin’s Southgate Drug, said that before the county lifted the restriction, pharmacists had to turn people away.

“The calls we got prior to this (lifting of the restriction) have been older people with congestive heart or pulmonary issues,” he said.

Pharmacist Ben Larsen, of Tim’s Pharmacy, said he has seen demand across all age groups.

“Parents of young kids, elderly, middle-aged, everyone’s called,” he said. “I just got it in last week. It would be good to get some kind of herd immunity.”

The decision to lift the restriction to allow more people to get the vaccine is made by local and county health providers, state Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer said.

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