County health departments will offer swine flu shots Monday

JACKSON – Limited amounts of swine flu vaccine will be available at county health departments starting Monday.
The Mississippi Department of Health on Friday said that pregnant women, children 6 months to 4 years old and those who live with or care for infants under 6 months should be first in line for the vaccine.
“We’re trying very hard to get the vaccine to those at highest risk for complications,” said Dr. Mary Currier, state epidemiologist.
The shots will be free at county health departments. Private providers, who receive the vaccine from the health department, can charge an administration fee.
So far, Mississippi has been allocated 223,800 doses of swine flu vaccine, about 1 percent of the vaccine available nationally based on the state’s population, Currier said.
“That’s not nearly enough,” Currier said. However, “we are constantly getting in more vaccine.”
Out of that allotment, 28,000 doses are being spread through the county health departments. A large portion has gone to private providers – primarily obstetricians and pediatricians. More than 1,000 private health providers have signed up to receive swine flu vaccine from the state health department.
Some vaccine is being set aside for school vaccination campaigns, Currier said.
Mississippi Health Department district offices have been working with schools to organize the voluntary vaccinations, which require parent approval.
Health department nurses will give the shots in some schools; private clinics are adopting some schools to help with shots.
Tupelo Public School District is slated to start swine flu shots Nov. 9, and permission slips have gone home to parents at many schools.
“Every student will have an opportunity,” said Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell. “We’re not going to force anybody.”
Lee County School Board has approved the voluntary vaccination program and school and public health officials are working to set dates, said Debbie Pickens, Lee County Schools secondary curriculum coordinator.
So far, Mississippi has logged 1,208 confirmed cases of swine flu with 15 confirmed or probable deaths attributed to the novel flu virus.
But those cases represent a small percentage of the people who have been sick with swine flu.
The state’s sentinel physician network has seen the percentage of people with flu symptoms decrease from about 14-16 percent of office visits to about 7-8 percent.
But the traditional flu season in Mississippi is still more than a month away, Currier said, and flu cases will likely surge again.
“We don’t know if seasonal flu or 2009 H1N1 will be dominant,” Currier said.
Both swine flu and seasonal flu shots are recommended for that reason.
The swine flu vaccine has been made using the same process as the seasonal flu vaccine.
“If it had been identified in February instead of May, it would have been one of the three strains in this year’s shot,” Currier said. Clinical trials have shown the shot to be safe and effective.
After pregnant women and small children are covered, the health officials will concentrate on getting the vaccine out to the rest of the priority groups – children, teens and young adults under 25 and people under 65 with underlying health conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease and immune system conditions.
Then, they will open the vaccine up for the general public.
“They’re predicting there will be lots of vaccine eventually,” Currier said.
For now, the prescription calls for patience, good hand-washing, cough etiquette and keeping sick folks at home, she said.

Michaela GibsonMorris/NEMS Daily Journal