Flu vaccine rolls out despite delays

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(Host) Vermont got its first shipment of swine flu vaccines this week, just as the number of cases has begun to grow.

Health officials say they expect plenty of vaccine will be available, but they concede that some deliveries have been delayed.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Flu season has settled in early this year.

The Health Department already has confirmed 11 cases – 3 people with seasonal flu and 8 with the unique "H1N1" swine flu.

That’s estimated to be just a fraction of the total number of cases. So the state has upgraded the level of the flu outbreak from "sporadic" to "local." That means there’s a noticeable increase in reported cases in at least one region of the state. In this case, it’s been southwestern Vermont that’s seen the increase.

Health Commissioner Wendy Davis says this is very early for so many people to be getting sick.

(Davis) "Our season actually typically doesn’t really get going until December and activity often peaks around January or February. But as you all know, this is not a typical flu season by any means."

(Sneyd) That’s because the swine flu pandemic began last spring and there have been cases of the virus ever since.

With the start of colder weather, the pandemic is back and setting in pretty quickly.

Davis says the Health Department still anticipates 30% of Vermonters will come down with swine flu, and many will also catch other strains of the seasonal flu.

About 76,000 doses of vaccination against seasonal flu have been delivered to Vermont. But the state needs far more than that and delivery has been delayed. Many clinics have had to cancel their vaccination plans until the manufacturer can catch up with a backlog.

Davis says she had an appointment for a seasonal flu shot, but it was canceled because of the delays.

(Davis) "So now we do need to ask people to be a bit patient but also be persistent in locating seasonal flu vaccine and to proceed with getting immunized as vaccine becomes available."

(Sneyd) In the meantime, 3,900 doses of swine flu vaccines have been distributed in Vermont. They’ll be administered mostly to health care providers at first, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends.

Deputy State Epidemiologist Susan Schoenfeld says the experience of swine flu last spring has helped public health officers prepare for this season and figure out who should get vaccinated first.

(Schoenfeld) "We have great confidence in the CDC and the medical community who are working closely together to monitor what’s going on and hope to give us a early heads-up if they start to see differences in illness patterns. That’s an advantage for us over the spring."

(Sneyd) As more swine flu vaccine becomes available, children will probably be the next in line to be treated. And the Health Department says it’s confident that seasonal flu vaccines will be widely available in Vermont again by the end of the month.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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