Monday, July 13, 2009

Florida prepares for huge swine flu shot program

``We're bringing in all of our community partners to qualify them to
give shots -- firemen, nurses in fire departments, paramedics, medical
students under the supervision of doctors.''

Florida prepares for huge swine flu shot program

THE MIAMI HERALD • July 10, 2009

Florida's surgeon general says the state is preparing for massive
swine flu immunizations, starting with schoolchildren, as the Obama
administration urges states to prepare for the likelihood that the
virus might worsen in the fall.

''We may end up averting a crisis. That's our hope,'' said President
Barack Obama, who took time away from the G-8 summit in Italy to
telephone another summit back home -- the 500 state and local health
officials meeting to prepare for swine flu's fall threat.

''We want to make sure we aren't promoting panic, but we are promoting
vigilance and preparation,'' Obama said.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, told the
swine flu summit some H1N1 vaccine should be ready by mid-October.

''Scientists and public health experts forecast that the impact of
H1N1 may well worsen in the fall, when the regular flu season hits or
even earlier, when schools start to open, which is only five or six
weeks away,'' she said.

Florida already is planning for such vaccinations, said Dr. Ana M.
Viamonte Ros, Florida surgeon general, as she emerged from the summit.

''We're already meeting with local schools and day-care centers on how
we would do this,'' she said. ``By mid-October we won't have doses for
everyone. The vaccines will have to be directed toward individuals at
high risk. It's important to determine who really is at risk. With
swine flu, more of the younger ages are affected. That puts more
stress on schools.''

Complicating the issue is the need to vaccinate against regular
seasonal flu and the swine flu with different vaccines at the same
time, Viamonte Ros said. Priorities would have to be different,
because regular flu hits older people harder while swine flu is most
widespread among the young.

No final decision has been made on whether to vaccinate Americans,
Sibelius said. That depends on studies with experimental batches that
are to start in August. But if all goes well, the federal government
will buy vaccine from manufacturers and share it free among the

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Confusion could arise as doctors, clinics and even pharmacies are in
the midst of dispensing 100 million doses of regular winter flu
vaccine at the same time schools are vaccinating against swine flu,
Sibelius said.

She announced $350 million in federal grants to help states prepare.

Local officials also worried about the prospect of closing schools if
the flu gets worse in the fall. School closures last spring created
havoc for working parents without day care, until health officials
reversed the policy and reopened schools even if they had swine flu

Miami-Dade schools already are preparing for widespread vaccinations
and also planning in case some schools have to close in the fall, said
Wilma Steiner, Miami-Dade schools' director of health services.

If Florida schools have to close again, they must be ready to use
distant learning techniques to cope, she said.

''We're already using a lot of these things -- teachers posting
assignments, holding study sessions online so when schools reopen the
kids won't have fallen behind,'' Viamonte Ros said.

Following Obama's lead, Broward and Miami-Dade health leaders said
Thursday they already have extensive plans in place in case of serious
swine flu pandemic this fall and winter. But they have much work to

''We're working really hard to be prepared,'' said Lillian Rivera,
director of the Miami-Dade Health Department. ``But we've never
experienced a pandemic before.''

A major concern is having enough qualified personnel available for big
vaccination programs, she said.

``We're bringing in all of our community partners to qualify them to
give shots -- firemen, nurses in fire departments, paramedics, medical
students under the supervision of doctors.''

''We've had a mass vaccination plan in place for some time, working
with law enforcement, emergency management services and health care
providers,'' said Dr. Paula Thaqi, director of the Broward Health
Department. ``We're making sure we're ready with supplies, locations
and staffing.''

U.S. health officials say the H1N1 flu has been relatively mild so
far, and has shown no evidence of mutating into a more virulent

Of 170 deaths so far in the United States, 75 percent were of people
with underlying health conditions such as asthma or heart problems.

On Thursday, the state health department reported two more swine flu
deaths -- a 55-year-old man in Duval County and a 25-year-old woman in
Palm Beach County -- raising the number of lab-confirmed deaths in
Florida to seven.
This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.

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