The first batch of H1N1 vaccine has rolled into North Carolina and is making its way to county health departments, but it's a tiny shipment aimed at some of the people most vulnerable to complications from the pandemic flu.
State epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies said Tuesday that 52,000 doses of nasal spray vaccine have arrived and will mainly be targeted to healthy people ages 2 to 49 -- particularly children -- and people who tend infants.
"We're really pleased we got doses already," she said, noting that original predictions for delivery were mid-October.
Because this first batch of vaccine is the nasal spray, however, it will not be targeted to pregnant women or people with asthma and compromised immune systems -- groups the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said should be protected early.
Like seasonal FluMist, the H1N1 nasal spray vaccine is made with an altered form of the live virus that can cause problems for people with those conditions.
Additional shipments, which should arrive weekly, will include the normal flu shots that are considered safe for most populations.
The doses have been divided among the state's 100 counties based on population. In addition, four large health systems throughout the state were given small shares to distribute through their doctor networks: Duke University Health System, East Carolina University in Greenville, Novant in Charlotte and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
"We got 1,800 doses, which is less than 1 percent of our requested allotment," said Dr. Monte Brown, vice president of administration with the Duke health system.
He said the doses will be available for patient use rather than for health-care providers, who are among those the CDC wants to vaccinate early.
In Wake County, which received 3,500 doses, the vaccine will be available to eligible patients Thursday at the county's four health clinics. About 500 doses will be reserved for emergency responders and health-care workers.
Durham County has about 1,400 doses, said public health director Gayle Harris. She said staff will decide today how and where to distribute the cache of vaccine, and patients will likely be able to get doses by the end of the week.
"When you have such a small amount, it's hard to move forward," Harris said.
Harris noted that supplies of seasonal flu vaccine, which met high early demand, are dwindling and that orders are backing up. Manufacturers have been taxed by the unusual year, having to churn out two rounds of vaccine -- one for seasonal flu and another for the H1N1 pandemic strain.
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