Local doctors preparing to give swine flu shots at schools, but don’t know when vaccine will arrive

Published 1:12 pm Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In the wake of a declaration by President Obama, declaring a national emergency in conjunction with the swine flu, local officials say they are moving toward setting up inoculations for local students, but do not know exactly when they will receive the swine flu vaccine.

Dr. James M. Riser of Riser Medical Associations said his office, along with some other private health care providers here, are in discussions with school officials on how to go about dispensing the vaccinations.

“Right now we are getting the paperwork done, but we do not know exactly when we will receive the swine flu vaccine,” said Riser.

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Picayune school assistant superintendent Brent Harrell said that school officials have been in conversations with Dr. Riser and told him that they would make available school facilities, such as the gymnasium, for conducting inoculations.

“We are more than happy to make the facilities available after school hours,” Harrell said. He said that it is possible that Nicholson and South Side elementary schools would be the site for the inoculations, but added, “That decision has not yet been made.”

Although local officials here are moving to set up a procedure for dispensing vaccines, officials here, like everyone else nationwide, is waiting for delivery of the vaccine. Although private companies produced it, the federal government is in charge of distributing it.

Originally, federal officials said that the swine flu vaccine would be available by mid-October, but reports nationwide, and from local officials here, indicate that medical outlets are still awaiting delivery and do not know precisely when the vaccine will arrive.

A spokesperson for the State Health Department, Liz Sharlot, said that the state has received an initial order of 60,000 doses of the injectable variety and 69,000 doses of nasal spray. She said those initial orders will go toward inoculating priority groups such as pregnant women, children and health care workers. She said those doses would first be sent to obstetricians, gynecologists and hospitals for health care workers.

She urged residents to get the regular, seasonal flu vaccine while awaiting for the delivery of the swine flu vaccine.

Providers of seasonal flu shots said they were running out of that vaccine and can’t get any other supplies.

Local officials here still can not pinpoint when the swine flu vaccine will be available.

Riser said that it might be by the end of November before the inoculation of local school students is accomplished and mid-December before the swine flu vaccine is available to the general public.

“We have the paperwork in to make sure that every school in Pearl River County is covered,” said Riser. He said he anticipates other private medical clinics will help. “It will be a community-based effort,” he said.

Riser said that each student to be inoculated will have to have a signed release from his or her parent or guardian stating it is okay for the student to be vaccinated. The program is voluntary, he said.

He said that although there have been some who have said they will not allow their child to be vaccinated, “the vaccine is safe.” He added, “It is as safe as the regular seasonal flu shot. The same companies are making both vaccines,” he added.

“The safety profile of the H1N1 shots is the same as that of the regular flu shots,” he added.

While the popular name of the virus is called “swine flu” the actual scientific name is the 2009 H1N1 strain. Already, national health officials say that 1,000 citizens have died from the strain, 100 of them children. That is far less than died in previous outbreaks of the Hong Kong flu and the Spanish influenza in 1918, when millions died.

Although there has been an uptick in the number of cases of swine flu being reported nationwide, officials said they do not expect it to be nearly as severe as previous outbreaks.

Last week the U.S. Department of Education said that 198 schools in 15 states had closed because of the high incidences of swine flu. That was up from just 11 schools in five states reported closed earlier in the week, a significant uptick.

By the end of the week, federal education officials said that 65,317 students nationwide were out of school because of the outbreak, up from only 2,213 at the start of last week.

Health officials said the figures will probably continue to rise until a large percentage of the population has had the swine flu or has received the vaccination against it.

Obama’s emergency declaration, the Associated Press reported, will allow officials to battle the outbreak by cutting through red tape, such as allowing health providers to operate alternative care sites, such as establishing off-site hospital centers at schools and community centers, if hospitals seek that permission from federal officials.

Some hospitals in the nation have already set up drive-up sites and tent clinics to screen patients and give shots, and the idea is to keep people infected out of emergency rooms and away from other sick patients, reported the AP.

Obama’s declaration was signed Friday night and announced on Saturday.

Federal officials at first said they expected 150 million doses to be available by mid-October, but so far only 11 million doses have gone out to health departments, doctors’ offices and other providers, the CDC told the AP.

Federal health officials said they hope to have 50 million doses out by mid-November and 150 million in December. Officials said the fact that the vaccine has to be grown in chicken eggs has slowed the process.