Swine flu shots to be available to all in county

The wait is over for everyone in Snohomish County who until now has been shut out of swine flu shots.

Beginning today, anyone who wants the immunization, either the nasal spray or the shot, should be able to get it.

Among the groups who haven’t been able to get the vaccine until now are healthy adults 25 and older.

The immunization will be available at local clinics, pharmacies and the Snohomish Health District clinics in Everett and Lynnwood, public health officials said Wednesday.

However, there still are limitations on vaccine supply, so people who want to be immunized should check with clinics or pharmacies for availability.

Seven people in Snohomish County have died from swine flu. Two adults died in the spring, and four adults and one infant have died so far in the fall’s second wave of infection.

Since Sept. 21, 92 people who live in the county have been hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of swine flu.

Local clinics say they expect to be overwhelmed with calls from people who have been waiting to be immunized.

“There certainly are people feeling like they have been excluded and left out,” said. Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, medical director of walk-in clinics at The Everett Clinic.

“It’s a very difficult message to explain, especially to seniors, who always have been told they’re first in line to get flu shots that they’re not at the head of the line,” Tu said.

Until today, the immunizations have been rationed to those who are most likely to become seriously ill from contacting swine flu. This included pregnant woman and people six months through 24 years.

News that seniors were not on the priority list stunned older adults who are encouraged to get the seasonal flu immunization each year.

They were not on the priority list for the available swine flu vaccine because the virus has hit younger people harder, killing infants, young children and young adults at proportionally higher rates than older adults.

The Everett Clinic, which has about 290,000 patients in Snohomish County, is planning special clinics this weekend to administer the H1N1 immunization at its Everett and Marysville sites. At least 2,000, perhaps as many as 4,000 of its patients can be immunized, Tu said.

The availability of the vaccine is being opened up to far wider groups of people at a time when the number of cases of swine flu are declining, locally and nationally.

Doctors and public health officials say they hope people take advantage of the opportunity to become immunized. They warn that that a third wave of swine flu could reignite this spring.

In addition, Tu said, people will be traveling during the holidays, and there are parts of the country, such as the Northeast and the Southwest, where flu is still widespread.

People who travel to any of these destinations could bring the virus back with them. “As we saw this summer and fall, once it gets into the community, it can really take off very quickly,” Tu said.

Eliminating the restrictions on swine flu immunization might help ease some of the anxiety among kids and parents, said Dr. Randall Gould, medical director of walk-in clinics for Providence Physician Group, which has seven clinics in Snohomish County.

Because people kept hearing that the virus was killing more children and young adults than older people, kids would sometimes burst into tears after hearing they might have swine flu, he said.

“They were afraid they were going to die,” Gould said. “I had never seen that before with a flu virus. It’s been difficult to reassure people.”

The move to allow anyone six months and older to get the vaccine in Snohomish County follows a similar step taken by health officials in Island County on Monday. King County will also make the change.

The wait to allow the general public to get the vaccine has been caused by slower-than-expected vaccine production.

Now, production has started to catch up with demand. As of last week, more than 100,000 doses of vaccine had been delivered to Snohomish County, according to Snohomish Health District officials. Another 40,000 to 50,000 doses are expected in the next several weeks.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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