Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New York City to offer students free H1N1 vaccines:

Tue Sep 1, 2009 2:30pm EDT
NEW YORK, Sept 1 (Reuters) - All primary school-age children in New York City will be offered free vaccines for seasonal and H1N1 flu this fall and winter under a plan announced on Tuesday by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The vaccines are part of the city's strategy to combat the new H1N1 swine flu strain that hit the city hard during the spring, infecting as many as 800,000 people or nearly 10 percent of the population.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged state and local health departments to prepare vaccination plans ahead of an expected second wave of H1N1 as the northern hemisphere enters the fall and winter months.

Safety tests are being done on a vaccine for H1N1 and it is expected to be made available in the second half of October, according to the CDC. Those trials will determine whether one or two doses will be needed to provide immunity.

Five companies are making swine flu vaccine for the U.S. market -- AstraZeneca's (AZN.L) MedImmune unit, CSL Ltd (CSL.AX), GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L), Novartis AG (NOVN.VX) and Sanofi-Aventis SA (SASY.PA).

New York's plan calls for distributing both conventional shots and MedImmune's FluMist, which is sprayed in the nose.
H1N1 has killed at least 2,185 people globally, since it began quickly spreading among humans earlier this year, according to the World Health Organization.

Because this virus is new, more people are susceptible to it and the WHO has been predicting for months now that 2 billion people will likely become infected.

White House advisers warned on Aug. 24 that it could infect up to half the U.S. population, leading to as many as 1.8 million hospitalizations and 90,000 deaths -- more than double the number of fatalities seen in a typical flu season.

Swine flu disproportionately affects younger people, unlike seasonal flu which mainly burdens the elderly.

U.S. researchers said on Tuesday that the new virus also appears to outcompete seasonal flu, making it less likely to mix with other circulating flu viruses into a "superbug" as some had feared.

New York City's vaccination plan calls for each school or center in the city to hold two vaccination sessions, about four weeks apart, according to the city's education department. Timing and logistics will depend on the supply of H1N1 vaccine and the availability of staff to administer it.

The city will also turn some health clinics into specialized flu treatment centers and launch a web portal to track flu data such as listing schools that report five or more cases of influenza-like illness, officials said.

The city will also dispatch hundreds of volunteer "flu fighters" to senior centers, schools, houses of worship and other places as part of its public information campaign, which was developed by experts from 15 city agencies that met throughout the summer.

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Paul Simao)

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