Hospitals in Indianapolis, Memphis Are First to Receive Swine Flu Vaccine

Harry Smith spoke with Dr. Jennifer Ashton about who should receive the H1N1 flu vaccine and risks to watch for.
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Doctors, nurses and other medical workers in Indiana and Tennessee were among the first Americans to receive swine flu vaccine Monday as the federal government began the most ambitious inoculation campaign in U.S. history.

Wishard Health Services and other hospitals in Indianapolis and at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis received the FluMist nasal spray vaccine at events attended by local, state and federal health officials.

"Today is a good day in the fight over flu," Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at the event at Le Bonheur, where about 150 respiratory therapists and other employees received the vaccine.

Le Bonheur was one of several hospitals in the country to experience a sharp increase in the number of children with flu symptoms in recent weeks. In fact, so many cases were coming in that the hospital set up a tent in the parking lot to help screen patients.

"We wish that the vaccine supplies and delivery and distribution would be faster. We wish that the cases of suffering from this virus would be slower. But at least today we are starting to turn the tide against this virus," Schuchat said.

The vaccinations mark the beginning of a nationwide campaign to inoculate at least half the U.S. population -- and perhaps nearly the entire country -- against the new H1N1 virus causing the first influenza pandemic in 41 years.

The federal government has spent $2 billion to buy about 250 million doses of vaccine and has pledged to buy enough to immunize every American if there is enough demand.

Many doctor's offices and health-care clinics say they are being flooded with calls from people seeking the vaccine. Recent public opinion surveys, however, indicate that many Americans remain undecided about the vaccine. A nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 adults released Friday by the Harvard School of Public Health, for example, found that 40 percent were sure they would be vaccinated and about half were sure that their children would.

Most people who contract the virus suffer only mild illness. But because most have no immunity to it, many more people than usual are expected to become infected, sick, hospitalized and possibly die than during a typical flu season. Children, young adults and pregnant women are especially at risk.

People ages 6 months to 24 years, those caring for babies younger than 6 months, health-care workers, pregnant women, and adults with health problems such as obesity, asthma or diabetes are being given top priority for the vaccine.

States and cities began ordering vaccine last week and the CDC has received requests for more than 1.7 million doses. Several million doses, primarily in the nasal spray form, are expected to be available by the end of the week. About 40 million doses of both injectable and nasal spray vaccine will be available by mid-month, with 10 million to 20 million more becoming available every week after that, officials said.

In California, 350,000 doses of the nasal mist were on their way or had arrived Monday to some of the 9,000 providers who requested the vaccine. In some areas, doses were available the same day. "We're not going to turn anybody away, but we really want to focus on the targeted groups first," said Mike Sicilia, spokesman for the state Public Health Department.

Arizona also anticipated 70,000 FluMist doses Monday for about 1,800 providers. Laura Oxley, spokeswoman for the state Health Services Department, said counties will determine who will receive priority. In Maricopa County, for example, most of the vaccine will go to health-care workers, she said.

Priority was up to individual providers in Oregon, which expects to receive 40,000 doses of nasal vaccine this week. State officials similarly plan to target children, pregnant women and health-care workers first but said they should have enough doses for widespread vaccination by mid-month.

In Texas, the first 237,000 doses will go to registered child-care providers. The state expects to receive 15 million doses total, but it could be late January before all doses are in, noted David Lakey of the Department of State Health Services.

Staff writers Ashley Surdin in Los Angeles and Kari Lydersen in Chicago contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company