Md. emergency personnel get permission to administer flu shots

Ella Curry, 6, of Silver Spring gets a dose of H1N1 nasal spray vaccine.
Ella Curry, 6, of Silver Spring gets a dose of H1N1 nasal spray vaccine. (Jacquelyn Martin/associated Press)
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By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gov. Martin O'Malley issued an emergency order Friday to help speed immunizations once more swine flu vaccine is available in Maryland.

The order allows paramedics, emergency medical technicians and cardiac rescue personnel to give shots to the general public. Before, they could give them only to each other under some circumstances.

The emergency order is basically a bureaucratic necessity. Health officials in Maryland and elsewhere are ramping up for what they hope will be plentiful supplies of vaccine, perhaps late this month. They don't want long lines caused by scant supplies to be replaced by long lines caused by a shortage of people to give shots.

Virginia made a similar emergency declaration in April and has been offering vaccination training sessions to EMT workers. In the District, which has not declared a public health or general emergency, paramedics can administer vaccines to the general public but emergency medical technicians cannot, officials said.

Virginia Health Commissioner Karen Remley said first responders in the commonwealth have so far been in demand for dealing with sick patients rather than those who need shots. "Right now, the best place for my EMS folks to be is on the street, in the hospitals," she said. "They are the people who come to your home . . . when you're short of breath and have pneumonia from H1N1."

O'Malley said he hopes there will be enough vaccine by the end of November that any Maryland resident who wants it can begin to get it. So far, local health officials have focused on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention priority groups, such as children, people with certain medical conditions and pregnant women.

Friday's order also gives Maryland's secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, John M. Colmers, the power to add "additional categories of health care providers" to the list of those who can vaccinate. He could, for instance, allow pharmacists to vaccinate teenagers. Existing rules limit them to adults, said spokesman David Paulson.

Maryland's move comes as health officials across the region continue to roll out free vaccination opportunities for those willing and able to stand in line. On Saturday, officials are holding pair of clinics at District schools, one in Leesburg, one at the Manassas Mall, and a hefty effort at Fairfax County's government center, where officials say they will be able to handle 12,000 people. The Fairfax clinic is targeting children 4 to 9 and young people 10 to 18 with underlying medical conditions.

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