Health Departments Deciding Who Gets First Swine Flu Vaccines

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Health departments around the state are making decisions about who will receive the first swine flu vaccines expected this week.

In Billings, RiverStone Health expects to receive 800 doses of vaccine mist in its first shipment. The Yellowstone County health department plans to give those vaccines to healthy children ages 2 to 4 during a 9 a.m.-1 p.m. clinic Saturday at Billings West High.

“It will be a first-come, first-served type of situation,” said Lil Anderson, county health officer and RiverStone CEO. “We have no idea how many people will show up.”

Young children who receive the mist vaccine will need a second dose in about a month.

Missoula County health officials have decided students who live in dorms at the University of Montana will be the first to receive swine flu vaccines.

“Ordinarily, we’d get the first vaccines and give them to the target groups of people who are most at risk, but because we’re getting the spray, we can’t do that,” said Ellen Leahy, director of the Missoula City-County Health Department. “A lot of colleges across the country have been hit hard by H1N1, so we believe that giving this to a confined population makes sense.”

The rate of students reporting to the university’s health center with flu-like illness has doubled in the last week, Leahy said.

The mist vaccine contains a weakened, live version of the swine flu virus, and cannot be given to pregnant women, children under the age of 2 and people with chronic diseases, such as asthma.

Leahy said that once the inoculations are available, the department will likely run a clinic with Community Medical Center that focuses on pregnant women. Health care workers will also be in the early line for the initial vaccine shipment.

In the Bozeman area, Gallatin County plans to survey health care providers to assess who should get the county’s first 500 doses.

The virus has sent 126 Montana State University students to the Student Health Service since classes started six weeks ago, said director Jim Mitchell.

“For the past two weeks, we’ve been running 35 to 40 cases a week — it seems pretty stable,” Mitchell said. “Most symptoms have been equal to or less than the regular, seasonal flu.”

Stephanie Murphy, human services director for the Gallatin City-County Health Department, said the county received reports of 42 cases of swine flu, which means most were at MSU.

Back in Billings, public health officials expect that there will be enough swine flu vaccine for everyone who wants it, but that might not happen for as long as four months.

In the meantime, local health officers will decide who should be vaccinated as doses become available.

“This is going to be very frustrating for the community and very frustrating for health care providers,” said Anderson, with the Yellowstone County health department. “Some people are going to have to come back two to three times to have all their family members vaccinated.”