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More Updates on the Swine Flu Vaccine

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I know everyone is still concerned about H1N1 (swine flu) and I want to keep updating the information as it is available. This week the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that the first doses of H1N1 vaccine will not be available until mid-October and there will be far fewer doses initially than expected. Only about 45 million doses will be available at that time, with another 20 million doses produced weekly, until the 195 million doses that were ordered are completed.

As discussed previously, making a new vaccine is a difficult process, and despite the fact that “swine flu” is easily spreading within communities, it has been more difficult to grow enough “lab virus” for vaccine production. It is due to this that vaccine production is about 50 percent of what was initially expected.

I continue to get questions as to how the vaccine will be distributed, how many doses will be needed etc. Most of this information is not yet available and should be forthcoming in the next several weeks as the preliminary trials on vaccine efficacy are completed. It does appear that the “swine flu” vaccine will probably require two shots that are separated by at least three weeks. It also takes several weeks post vaccination to produce antibodies to prevent infection. Unfortunately, you are not immune the minute the needle is inserted! The logistics of providing the immunizations have not been worked out, and different communities may provide vaccine in different ways. Some state and local health departments may provide school based vaccine clinics, but again that decision may vary.

With school just around the corner the concern is that the vaccine may be too late to halt outbreaks as “swine flu” has continued to be diagnosed throughout the summer months and will probably become more prevalent within weeks of school resuming. The concern is that school aged children seem to be the most vulnerable, with the median age for infection being 12 – 17 years. The symptoms of “swine flu” resemble those of seasonal influenza and one type of flu does not prevent the other. In other words, this could be a very long flu season with successive illnesses with different influenza viruses.

For now the best advice is to get your seasonal (regular) influenza vaccine, which is already available in both injectable and intranasal formulations. This is not a good year to “miss” your seasonal flu vaccine as it is still the best protection there is for “regular flu”. This vaccine is recommended for ALL children between the ages of six months and 18 years. (See previous links for more details about recommendations for others).

Remember the seasonal flu vaccine does not prevent H1N1 (swine flu) and vice a versa. This is going to be a long and complicated flu season, so stay tuned for more information.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again soon!

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