Vaccine to protect people from the new H1N1 flu began arriving in Missouri this week, as drug manufacturers ramp up production in an effort to stop the first worldwide flu pandemic in 41 years.
By Tuesday, some 17,000 doses of aerosol mist vaccine had arrived in Missouri and were making their way to doctors' offices, clinics and local health departments. Vaccine makers were expected to begin shipping as many as 365,000 additional vaccine doses to Missouri over the next two weeks.
The next shipments will include up to 250,000 doses of the injectable form of the vaccine, which can be used by pregnant women and children younger than 2 years old. Both groups are considered at high risk from the H1N1 virus, which has afflicted children and young adults more seriously than older adults.
Margaret Donnelly, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the first week's shipment is relatively small because health officials were trying to make the vaccine available quickly.
Officials had to choose between waiting until large quantities were ready to ship or distributing smaller quantities of the vaccine as soon as they came off the production line.
"The decision was made to ship vaccine immediately so we could start protecting people against this disease as soon as possible," Donnelly said. "With the shipments expected in the next two weeks, we believe we will meet our goal of having significant amounts of vaccine available throughout the state by mid-October."
To get vaccines to the public as efficiently as possible, state health officials had vaccine makers ship vaccines directly to local public health agencies or to health care providers who signed up to give the vaccine to patients.
The mist version of the vaccine can be used to inoculate healthy children and adults from ages 2 through 49. However, it uses a live-virus formulation and therefore is not appropriate for pregnant women, children under 2 years old, or anyone with underlying health conditions, such as asthma. Those groups should wait until next week when the injectable version of the vaccine is available.
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 resistance to the virus.
"We expect to have adequate supplies of vaccine available statewide for the high-risk groups," Donnelly said. "Steady additional shipments of the vaccine should eventually allow us to provide flu shots or mist to everyone who wants them."
Donnelly urged people, especially those older than 50, to get a seasonal flu vaccine. The seasonal flu season began Oct. 4 and both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus will be circulating once temperatures begin to drop.
Seasonal vaccine and the H1N1 nasal spray are manufactured by the same process. Patients can receive shots of both the H1N1 vaccine and the seasonal flu vaccine at the same time. However, H1N1 vaccine mist and seasonal flu vaccine mist cannot be given at the same visit and should be separated by 4 weeks.
If a patient was previously prescribed antiviral medication, the aerosol mist vaccine should not be administered until 48 hours after the patient stopped taking the antiviral medicine.
To learn where to obtain vaccinations against both the H1N1 flu and the seasonal flu, call the Barry County Health Department.