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Published: Thursday, 10/8/2009

Swine flu vaccine on its way to Ohio

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — The first supply of vaccine targeting the swine flu virus is expected in Ohio within hours, and although the initial nasal mist will be given to health-care providers first, the state predicted yesterday there will ultimately be enough for everyone who wants it.

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

“What that tells us is that the H1N1 [or swine] flu pandemic is strengthening and is showing no signs of slowing,” he said.

Since this strain first emerged in the United States in the spring, four Ohio deaths have been attributed to it.

Gov. Ted Strickland signed an order yesterday authorizing roughly 17,000 emergency medical technicians to administer the vaccines if needed.

Hundreds of thousands of doses from a state stockpile of

2 million anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza, used when flu symptoms are already present, have been distributed to local departments of health and hospitals to be used if commercially available medications are exhausted.

Ohio ordered its first 61,500 doses of vaccine on Friday to build immunity to the swine flu variation. The first batch will be in nasal mist form and will contain a weakened live virus. For that reason, it should not be given to high-risk individuals, including pregnant women.

Subsequent shipments will include an injection form, which contains a dead virus. Pregnant women and other high-risk individuals may 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 workers, emergency medical personnel, pregnant women, caregivers of children under the age of 6 months, children, younger adults, and older adults with health conditions placing them at particularly greater risk to the effects of influenza.

Some 45 million doses are expected to be sent to states by mid-October, with 3.7 percent initially earmarked for Ohio, based on its population. That translates into roughly 1.7 million doses.

“While initial quantities may be limited, increasing numbers of vaccines will be coming into the state each week,” Dr. Jackson said. “The Centers for Disease Control assures us that there will be enough vaccine for all who want it as we move forward.”

The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department expects to get 3,000 nasal mist H1N1 flu vaccine doses today or tomorrow, and half will be given to hospitals, said Larry Vasko, deputy health commissioner.

The local health department is going to use initial swine flu vaccine doses to vaccinate emergency response personnel, as well as medical practices not associated with hospitals, Mr. Vasko said.

“We've got to keep them all set to go,” Mr. Vasko said.

The health department expects to get next week much of the roughly 265,000 doses it ordered, and obstetricians and pediatricians should start receiving them for their patients, Mr. Vasko said. More than 160 health providers, including hospitals, have registered to get H1N1 vaccine doses, he said.

The first clinics to vaccinate Lucas County schoolchildren are expected to be held Oct. 19, although it has not be determined which districts or schools will be scheduled first, Mr. Vasko said.

Permission forms that must be signed by parents are being printed, and they likely will be distributed through schools next week, he said.

Volunteer medical and nursing students are being lined up to help distribute vaccinations, and the health department also is working with organizations such as the American Red Cross, Mr. Vasko said.

Mr. Strickland will not be in line for the vaccine, at least not immediately.

At age 68, he is not in a priority group. Unlike the seasonal flu, those aged 65 and older have shown a greater resistance to the H1N1 virus than younger populations, potentially because of their exposure to prior flu epidemics.

“There's no preferential treatment for the governor,” Mr. Jackson.

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

The H1N1 vaccine itself is free, but medical providers may charge a fee for administering it. The seasonal flu vaccine is not free.

In the meantime, Dr. Jackson encouraged Ohioans to get the seasonal vaccine.

“There has been increased demand for the seasonal flu shot,” he said. “That's good news, because over 36,000 Americans die each year from influenza. We know supply from the Centers for Disease Control is roughly the same as last year, so we do not anticipate a shortage,” Dr. Jackson said.

In the meantime, he suggested that Ohioans exercise common sense by covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough; frequently washing their hands; avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth; and staying home from work or school until 24 hours after a fever disappears.

Since Aug. 30, there have been 89 hospitalizations in Ohio involving flu symptoms, 32 of which were lab-confirmed as H1N1, according to Dr. Jackson, former medical director of Community Health Services in Fremont.

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.comor 614-221-0496.



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