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Swine Flu Vaccine Arriving, But Don't Line Up Yet

Swine Flu Vaccine Arriving, But Don't Line Up Yet

Associated Press/AP Online

October 05, 2009

WASHINGTON – And we’re off: Swine flu vaccinations begin Monday with squirts in the noses scheduled for some doctors, nurses and other health workers in Indiana and Tennessee, a first step in a hugely ambitious campaign to try to inoculate over half the population in a few months. But don’t start bugging your doctor about an appointment just yet.

This week’s initial shipments to states are so small that, with a few exceptions for children, most states are reserving them for health workers so they’ll stay healthy enough to care for the flu-stricken and vaccinate others.

Inoculations won’t gear up in earnest until mid-October, when at least 40 million doses against what scientists call the 2009 H1N1 flu will have rolled out, with more arriving each week after that.

This is uncharted territory – you really can’t plan too far ahead to say, “I’ll schedule my shot on Oct. 16 at Clinic X.” Only as shipments start arriving will local doctors, clinics, school vaccination programs and drugstores get word that their doses are coming and how much. Each state health department decides that.

People will have to stay tuned.

“Take a deep breath, be patient, wait a couple of days, make another phone call and cut everyone a little slack, because it’s a little hectic out there, folks,” says Dr. William Schaffner, a flu vaccine specialist at Vanderbilt University.

Here’s what you need to know:

Q: Why not wait to start until there’s enough for everybody instead of the confusing here-and-there vaccinations?

A: Even though Sunday was the official start of flu season, this H1N1 wasn’t heeding the calendar – it’s already causing illness in nearly every state. That means getting vaccine to the people at highest risk is a race. So each week, states will distribute however much they have on hand.

Q: If factories are still racing vaccine out the door, how can I be sure it’s safe?

A: The Food and Drug Administration clears batches of vaccine before they’re released. The H1N1 vaccine is made in the same way as the regular winter flu vaccine that is used with very few, minor side effects by nearly 100 million Americans a year. There’s no biological reason the H1N1 vaccine should react any differently, and no red flags have appeared in studies of several thousand people.

“What I want people to know is that no corners have been cut at all,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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