Swine Flu Vaccine Hits the Flathead

By Beacon Staff

The Flathead City-County Health Department received its first shipment of the swine flu vaccine with plans to begin vaccinations on Oct. 15.

The initial vaccination will be a live attenuated virus nasal spray, not the traditional shot. The department received 1,000 doses of the nasal spray, which will first be given to healthy children ages 2 to 19. The spray can only be administered to people ages 2 to 49.

Community Health Director Jody White said the initial doses are an attempt to stave off the spread of H1N1 in school children, and that the nasal spray has proven to be more effective for this age group.

The health department will not forcing vaccinations on any age group. County Health Officer Joe Russell told Flathead County Commissioners last week that there should be enough sites to administer the vaccine if parents want it for their children and there are no intentions to bring it into schools.

“It’s hard to do,” Russell said. “We really want parents there when their kids get vaccinated.”

The first vaccinations will be administered at the Flathead City-County Health Department on Oct. 15 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. All H1N1 vaccinations are free at the health department clinic.

Some children are not eligible for the nasal spray because it is a live attenuated virus. These kids include: Those who have received a nasal spray or live vaccine, including MMR, in the past four weeks; those who are immune compromised; those with severe egg allergies; those with chronic health problems such as heart or lung disease and asthma; those with certain muscle or cerebral disorders; those who have close contact with people with weakened immune systems; those with long-term aspirin treatment.

Children must either be accompanied by a parent or have a parent-signed waiver form, which can be picked up at the health department clinic.

When more vaccines become available, more vaccinations will be scheduled for pregnant women, people who live or care for children younger than six months old, health care personnel, people six months to 24 years old and people in the age range of 25 to 64 and are at higher risk of H1N1 complications from chronic health disorders.

After more vaccine is shipped in, healthy adults ages 25 and older will be eligible.

The health department saw high turnout for their seasonal flu vaccinations, running out of the vaccine two hours before the event was scheduled to end. Another shipment of season flu vaccine is expected in November.

County officials urged Flathead Valley residents to keep an eye out for flu symptoms – fever, upset stomach, muscle aches, dry cough, chills, fatigue – and to stay home if they get sick. They also reminded residents to wash their hands several times throughout the day.

The H1N1 virus hit schools in Butte and Anaconda especially hard in recent weeks, prompting school closures. School officials said last week that about 25 percent of the student body was absent.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the swine flu was active in 37 states last week, up 10 states from the prior week. The CDC also reported 19 pediatric deaths across the country last week, bringing the total to 76 since April. This number compares with 68 deaths attributed to the seasonal flu from September 2008 to April 2009.

Most of the deaths stemmed from bacterial infections that overtook the virus-weakened immune system. Many of the children had neurological disorders, such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, according to the CDC.