- The Washington Times - Friday, October 2, 2009

RICHMOND | Virginia health officials expect the state to get its first doses of swine flu vaccines by early next week for health care workers, and more shipments will be arriving every few days.

The initial shipment of 43,500 doses of the nasal-mist vaccine will be sent to hospitals and local health departments to immunize health care workers and emergency services staffers who have direct contact with patients, Virginia Department of Health Commissioner Karen Remley said Thursday.

Hospitals will receive 30,200 doses, and 13,300 doses will go to health departments, she said. Children’s hospitals will be among the first to receive the vaccines. Workers there care for young patients who are among those particularly vulnerable to the highly contagious 2009 H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu.

The small size of the first shipment will make it easier for the Virginia Department of Health to determine whether the distribution process has worked, Dr. Remley said in a conference call with reporters.

Health officials say the initial doses will consist only of the nasal-spray version of the H1N1 vaccine, which is made with a live, weakened flu virus and is recommended only for healthy people ages 2 to 49. Pregnant women are among those who should wait for the injectable vaccine, which uses a version of the dead virus.

The first doses will be able to cover significantly less than 1 percent of the state’s population, but the vaccine then will become available to what Dr. Remley calls “key priority groups” including pregnant women, people who take care of young children and those who have underlying health problems that make them more vulnerable to illness.

The H1N1 vaccine then will become available to the wider community, through local health departments, physicians, pharmacies and stores. Full access to the vaccine among all Virginians is expected by mid-November, Dr. Remley said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will allocate an estimated 45 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine nationwide based on states’ population, Dr. Remley said.

After pharmaceutical manufacturers tell the CDC how much vaccine is ready to ship, the agency will tell states how much is available for their use. Then McKesson, a medical distributor, will package the vaccine and distribute it directly to Virginia hospitals and local health departments.

Virginia has 3,100 registered vaccination sites that are awaiting shipment of the H1N1 vaccine.

Dr. Remley encouraged all Virginians to get immunized against the virus, which the health department says is suspected in the deaths of six residents so far. Virginia residents can check the state health department’s Web site or call a toll-free telephone number to find out when the vaccine will become available in their communities.

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