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Published: Wednesday, 10/7/2009

First swine flu vaccines expected in Ohio this week


COLUMBUS — The first batch of vaccine targeting the H1N1 flu virus is expected in Ohio within a day, and although the initial nasal mist will be reserved for health-care providers, the state Wednesday predicted there will ultimately be enough vaccine for everyone who wants it.

Dr. Alvin Jackson, director of the Department of Health, said flu activity has been unusually high for this early in the season.

"What that tells us is that H1N1 flu pandemic is strengthening and is showing no signs of slowing," he said. Since this strain first emerged in the United States last spring, at least four Ohio deaths have been attributed to it.

Gov. Ted Strickland Wednesday signed an order making roughly 17,000 emergency medical technicians available to administer the vaccines if needed. A state stockpile of anti-viral medications, used once flu symptoms are already present, have been distributed to local departments of health to be used as a backup if commercially available medications are exhausted.

Ohio's first shipment of a vaccine to build immunity to the latest flu variation will be in nasal mist form and will contain a weakened live version of the virus. For that reason, it should not be given to high-risk individuals, including pregnant women.

Subsequent shipments will include the injection form, which contains an inert version of the virus. Pregnant women and other high-risk individuals can receive this form of the vaccine.

"The vaccine distribution will speed up as more manufacturers make the product available…,'' Mr. Strickland said. "I encourage all Ohioans to be patient and diligent in seeking their vaccine. It will go first to those who run the greatest risk of severe health effects of the virus…"

High priority groups include health care and emergency medical personnel, pregnant women, caregivers of children under the age of 6 months, children, younger adults, and older adults through age 64 with health conditions placing them at greater risk to flu symptoms.

"We have been assured that there will be plenty of vaccine for those who are vulnerable to the disease,'' Mr. Strickland said.

That doesn't include the governor. Mr. Strickland, at age 68, is not in one of the priority groups. Unlike the seasonal flu, those aged 65 and older have shown a greater resistance to the H1N1 virus than younger populations.

Mr. Strickland has already had his seasonal flu vaccination, and said he may eventually get the H1NI, or swine flu, vaccination after the priority groups have been served.

"There's no preferential treatment for the governor," said Mr. Jackson.

A state hotline with information on the swine flu is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1-866-800-1404. Additional information is available at the Department of Health's web site, www.odh.ohio.gov.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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