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Demand for H1N1 vaccine high

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By Laura Clark

Though the H1N1 flu vaccine is being distributed to medical facilities by the North Central District Health Department as quickly as it arrives, those dosages are not keeping up with the demand in Shelby County. New shipments arrive weekly, typically several hundred to just more than a thousand, officials say, but requests for vaccinations are going unmet because so many people have grown concerned about the strain of flu that has claimed 11 lives in Kentucky. Distributing to primary-care physicians, OBGYN’s and pediatricians has proved the most efficient way to get the vaccine out, District Epidemiologist Vinay Chiguluri said. “We are trying to reach out to target groups,” he said. Those target groups are pregnant women, people who care for children under six months of age, health-care personnel, children older than six months, young adults up to 24 years of age and young adults ages 25 to 64 who have chronic health disorders.  The federal government bought all the vaccine and is distributing it state by state and county by county in proportion to population. Health-care officials are urging patience – they say all who want to be vaccinated will be – and prevention in the wait for vaccination, which is free but requires two treatments, thus complicating the problem. “We’ve had numerous phone calls,” said Melinda Cowherd, practice manager at Maxcare. “We’ve had to turn a lot of people away because they do not meet the criteria set up by health department and federal government.”  She said Maxcare has not been able to fulfill requests for even those qualified and has run out of the vaccine each week. The number of vaccines vary, but Cowherd said doctors would continue to request more vaccine from the health department.  Impact of H1N1 Kentucky has documented 910 cases of H1N1, but none of those have been in Shelby County. The Centers for Disease Control reports that seasonal flu affects 5 to 20 percent of the population in a given year and is responsible for 36,000 deaths nationwide. Individual cases of the flu are not being tested to determine if they are H1N1 or seasonal flu. The symptoms and treatments for mild cases are the same. Only in instances of hospitalization or the first in an institutional setting are lab tests required. The tests are expensive and not covered by insurance carriers. Shelby County public schools has seen a small effect on attendance, which District Health Coordinator Traci Earley said is typical this time of year. It is up to parents or physicians to volunteer the reason for a child’s absence. “Doctors’ offices are reporting more and more [flu] cases, but thankfully they’ve been mild,” Earley said. “We only stopped seeing flu-like symptoms during the months of May and June, then it picked back up,” Cowherd said. “We’ve been really busy unfortunately.”    Cowherd said Maxcare had 141 patients in the last week with flu-like symptoms. School inoculation planned The H1N1 flu has disproportionately affected younger people. There were flu viruses circulating through the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s that were closely related to H1N1, according to the CDC. “About one-third of adults older than 60 may have antibodies against the virus,” its Web site reports. “It is unknown how much, if any, protection may be afforded against 2009 H1N1 flu by existing antibodies.” Chiguluri said that although it may be harder for older people to contract H1N1, because of their age, it could also be more severe if they do.    Chiguluri and Earley said they are hopeful they can hold school-wide inoculations of children and teenagers, such as those planned for early December in Oldham County. “We do have plans down the line,” Chiguluri said. “But it is basically fluid. We do not have enough vaccine to inoculate all the kids at this point.”