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H1N1 vaccine to be delivered to Missouri by Mid-October

Monday, September 14, 2009

Missouri's top public health official joined today with researchers from Saint Louis University to tout the new H1N1 flu vaccine now in the final stages of testing.

Margaret Donnelly, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, called vaccination the single best way that people can protect themselves from what is expected to be a tough flu season.
"With the new H1N1 flu virus already circulating throughout the nation and the seasonal flu virus expected to emerge later this fall, people need to be prepared," Donnelly said. "Getting your flu shots this fall is an important first step."
Donnelly urged people, especially those over the age of 65, to go now to get the seasonal flu vaccine, which is already available. The vaccine against the new H1N1 flu virus is expected to become available in mid-October.
Donnelly made her remarks at Saint Louis University's Center for Vaccine Development, which is one of eight sites funded by the National Institutes of Health where clinical trials are underway to test the safety and effectiveness of the new vaccine.
The university is testing the vaccine in healthy children and adults to help determine the best dosage and the most effective method to provoke an immune response in patients.
An unusual aspect of the vaccine against the H1N1 flu is that it was expected to require people to get two shots. Saint Louis University researchers are testing whether shots 21 days apart provide the most protection against the virus. Recent testing has shown, however, that the H1N1 vaccine may be effective for healthy adults after only one shot.
Dr. Sharon Frey, clinical director of SLU's Center for Vaccine Development, is overseeing the tests at Saint Louis University.
"These studies are critical to understanding how the vaccines can be used to prevent the new pandemic virus from causing influenza," she said. "The vaccines look safe and they are well tolerated. Antibodies are developing in adults after just one shot."
Donnelly, who toured the university's vaccine development center, said Monday's event kicked off a statewide campaign to encourage people to get the vaccine once available.
The seasonal flu causes about 15,000 illnesses in Missouri in a typical year. Flu season usually runs from early October through late May. But the new H1N1 virus, which emerged in the United States in April, continued to cause illness throughout the summer. Several outbreaks have occurred at Missouri schools and universities.
Dr. Robert Belshe, director of SLU's Center for Vaccine Development, said the H1N1 studies had gone smoothly.
"We have been able to develop data to guide public health recommendations for using the vaccine to reduce the impact of the current epidemic," Dr. Belshe said.
Donnelly said Missouri is expected to receive 878,000 doses of H1N1 flu vaccine in initial shipments by mid-October. More doses will follow as drug makers ramp up production.
Current studies indicate that pregnant women, children and young adults are the most at risk of contracting the H1N1 flu. Therefore, those groups will be given priority in receiving the vaccine first. Studies indicate that older persons appear to be at less risk for H1N1 flu, apparently because of some degree of pre-existing immunity.
"We expect to have adequate supplies of vaccine available statewide for the high-risk groups next month," Donnelly said. "Steady additional shipments of the vaccine should eventually allow us to provide shots to everyone who wants them."

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