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H1N1 flu nasal spray vaccine has arrived in Los Angeles

October 8, 2009 |  2:27 pm
Nasalspray With Los Angeles County’s first shipments of the nasal spray vaccine for H1N1 influenza in hand, state and local public health officials said today that at-risk residents should seek vaccination soon. Californians are being urged to learn whether they are eligible for the nasal spray, seek out providers who have the vaccine and consider what they will do if they or someone close to them is sickened.

More than 2,700 hospitalizations and 206 deaths in California have been caused by the H1N1 flu  since April, said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health. In L.A. County over that same period H1N1 is reponsible for 57 deaths and 128 admissions to intensive care units.

While the number of deaths and hospitalizations due to H1N1 has decreased in recent weeks, more people are showing flu-like symptoms and the number of serious cases is expected to rise as the flu season progresses, Horton said.

Federal officials -- who have been purchasing vaccines and distributing them to states -- already have sent California 400,000 doses of H1N1 FluMist, a nasal spray, Horton said. About 90% will be distributed to private providers with the rest going to public providers such as county health clinics, Horton said. He said the department would begin posting vaccination locations on its website today.

L.A. County has received 92,000 doses -- nearly a quarter of the state's supply of nasal spray -- according to Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, the county's director of public health. By next week, another 200,000 doses are scheduled to be available in the county with as many as 1.4 million planned by month's end.

Fielding said that of 3,000 healthcare providers who have requested the vaccine about 240 now have some in stock.

"There's not a shortage," Fielding said, urging patience as the stockpiles are built up. He advised waiting a week to call your doctor. "There is plenty of vaccine to go around."

Fielding said the H1N1 vaccine will be provided free at public health clinics sponsored by the county in coming weeks. California can expect to receive weekly shipments of the H1N1 nasal spray and vaccine through the beginning of next year, officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

“We urge all individuals to determine whether they are in one of the targeted groups for this vaccine and make plans if they are to get vaccinated,” Horton said.

Those targeted for the nasal spray and vaccine include parents and caregivers of babies under 6 months old; people ages 6 months to 24 years; people ages 25 to 64 with underlying medical conditions; pregnant women; and healthcare workers.

About one-third of the vaccines arriving in coming weeks will be free of preservatives, which will be made available to alleviate concerns about vaccine safety for pregnant women, officials said.

Some Los Angeles-area doctors and clinics -- including some UCLA Medical Center clinics -- have already received and begun administering the H1N1 nasal spray.

Kaiser Permanente received a FluMist shipment at its Southern California regional pharmacy, but the nasal sprays will not be distributed to local hospitals until next week, a spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said it hopes to receive shipments next week.

“The message we’re trying to relay to people is to be patient. There will be adequate supply in coming weeks” said Dr. Rekha Murthy, director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai. “It’s probably going to be some time before enough people are vaccinated to quell the epidemic.”

In Los Angeles County, public health officials are seeing higher flu infection rates than at this time last year, with a dozen outbreaks in the most recent week for which data are available, Sept. 20 to 26.

Seven of those outbreaks were at elementary schools, two at middle schools, one each at a college, high school and nursing home, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

There have been eight severe pediatric flu cases this year, including four deaths, none during the most recent week reported, public health records show.

Unlike last spring, the health department is not recommending that schools or other public facilities that have flu outbreaks close.

“We’re taking it on a case-by-case basis,” said spokeswoman Sarah Kissel. “It might be a situation where it’s more present in one classroom than another. The schools will have to make that decision themselves.”

Learn more about who is most at risk at www.flu.gov.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske at the L.A. County Department of Health

Photo: Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, director and health officer for county of Los Angeles Public Health department, displays the H1N1 flu nasal spray vaccine, at Department of Public Health headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

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