UPDATE: Some Miss. hospitals take pass on spray vaccine

JACKSON— Officials at the University of Mississippi Medical Center intend to inoculate many of the facility’s 8,000 workers against the swine flu virus, but they won’t use the now-available nasal spray vaccine.

The reason: Too many limitations for its use.

“It is not approved for use in pregnant women, and really at school and work, you’re going to have a significant number of pregnant women in that population,” said Dr. Rebecca Waterer, director of student/employee health at UMC, which is a teaching hospital.

Some hospitals in Mississippi and other states are passing up the government’s offer for the FluMist spray for health care workers, choosing to wait for the injectable vaccine even as the virus continues to fill emergency rooms and doctors’ office across the country.

Many cite usage restrictions on the spray, and the slim possibility it could transmit the virus to patients and others through air exposure.

The government began shipping nasal dosages to states this week. The priority innoculation group is health care workers. Mississippi’s 106 acute care hospitals employ more than 61,000 workers.

The spray can be used by anyone 2 to 49 years old and in good health. It’s not recommended for high-risk groups such as pregnant women and people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

So far, at least 8 deaths in Mississippi have been attributed to swine flu. Nationally, about 600 people have died.

Baptist Medical Center in Jackson will skip the spray because it’s “a live virus” unlike the injectable vaccine that’s is expected to be available in some areas in coming days, said spokesman Robby Channell.

“The flu strain is live and could be transmitted so we didn’t want to take that chance of exposing patients and health care workers,” Channell said.

The hospital has 3,000 volunteers who will be encouraged to get vaccine shots when they become available, he said.

William Allstetter of National Jewish Health in Denver said the facility won’t use the spray because many employees are older or have health problems.

Tom Skinner, senior public affairs officer for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledged many in the health care community have raised concerns about using the spray vaccine in health care settings. But he said research reviewed by CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices found the virus in the spray is rarely passed to those who have not been vaccinated.

“We do say that HCWs who care for patients in protected hospital environments, defined as those with special air filtering systems and positive pressure rooms, should avoid caring for these very immunocompromised patients for 7 days after receiving FluMist,” Skinner said in an e-mail.

“It’s up to each institution to decide how and when to vaccinate based on when they expect vaccine to arrive,” Skinner said.

Twenty-seven states, including Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, are experiencing widespread flu activity, according to the CDC. About 2.2 million doses of the nasal spray are available and injections are expected to begin next week.

Mississippi received 10,000 dosages on Tuesday. State Department of Health spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said hospitals and order providers place orders for the vaccine and then it’s distributed — a process that could take several days.

If given a choice, Mike Shaw of the Medical Center of Arlington in Texas, said he would prefer injections for hospital workers.

Shaw, the hospital’s employee health coordinator, said it would be difficult to keep recently vaccinated workers away from ill patients. However, he said only three of the hospital’s about 1,000 employees have tested positive for influenza A, the same strain as the H1N1 swine flu variety.

“At this point, whatever we could get we would utilize,” Shaw said.

Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press