US health workers get first pandemic flu vaccine doses

Oct 5, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – The nation's first doses of the pandemic H1N1 vaccine were administered today, mainly to a limited group of healthcare workers and emergency medical service workers, while some physicians' offices fielded calls about when the vaccine would be more widely available.

Federal, state, and local officials were on hand to witness the events today at medical facilities in Memphis and Indianapolis. The very first doses were given to healthcare workers at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis, according to a press release from the hospital.

Doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists who work in the hospital's emergency department and intensive care units were in the first group to receive the live attenuated nasal mist form of the H1N1 flu vaccine, made by MedImmune. Pediatric physicians, residents, and infectious disease specialists were also among Le Bonheur's first recipients.

About 150 workers lined up to receive the vaccine.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has singled out healthcare workers as the top priority group to receive the vaccine when supplies are slim, as they are now during deliveries of the first doses to states.

Keith English, MD, Le Bonheur's medical director of infectious diseases, said in the press release, "It's important that our healthcare system is able to respond to the needs of our patients. This vaccine is one way we as healthcare workers can make sure we're healthy and there for our patients when they need us."

Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said, "Today we are beginning to turn the tide in the fight against the H1N1 flu virus. We are excited to begin to protect those who care for others."

Meanwhile, officials were also on hand to see healthcare workers at an Indianapolis health center receive some of the nation's first pandemic flu doses, according to a press release from the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH). On Oct 1 the state placed an order for its first shipment of 28,700 doses.

Judy Monroe, MD, Indiana's health commissioner, said she expects a substantial supply of the vaccine to arrive by mid October when officials will be targeting high-risk groups, including pregnant women, children from 6 months to 24 years old, people who take care of babies, and adults with underlying medical conditions.

Some pediatrician offices are fielding dozens of calls from parents who want the pandemic vaccine for their children, the New York Times reported today.

The virus is hitting younger age-groups the hardest, and federal officials are hoping pediatricians and schools can help get the vaccine quickly to children as soon as it is available. Influenza activity started spreading across the countries as school resumes.

Most physicians don't know exactly when they will receive their supplies, making it difficult to schedule appointments for young patients to be vaccinated.

After it was inundated with calls from parents, a doctor's office in Hartsdale, NY, added a new option on their answering machine that delivers a prerecorded message that the vaccine is not yet available, the Times reported.

Kathryn Paterno, the clinic's manager, told the Times, "People want it [the vaccine]. When they listen to news reports, they pick out bits and pieces—'swine flu, get it'—but they don't quite comprehend that we don't have it yet," she said.

The US government has ordered about 250 million doses of pandemic vaccine from five different producers. In mid September officials said the first wave of the vaccine would probably be 3.4 million doses of MedImmune's nasal spray product, which were expected to reach providers the first week of October.

Though health officials say the inhaled vaccine—approved for those ages 2 to 49—is a good option for healthy children, it is contraindicated for many in high risk people in the CDC's priority groups, such as pregnant women and people with underlying medical conditions.

The United States becomes the third country to begin pandemic vaccine immunization. China started immunizing students on Sep 21, and Australia began vaccinating its citizens on Sep 30.

In early May, soon after the novel H1N1 virus was identified, an official from the World Health Organization predicted manufacturers would need 5 or 6 months to begin producing mass quantities of a vaccine.

In late July, MedImmune announced it was getting high yields from its production of the pandemic H1N1 vaccine, even higher than for the seasonal flu version of its inhaled vaccine. Company officials said they had already made more than what the US government ordered, but said they faced a possible shortage of devices used to spray the vaccine into the nose.

See also:

Oct 5 Indiana State Department of Health press release

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