By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
If a vaccine is found to be both successful and safe against swine flu, Snohomish County initially would get enough to treat between 44,000 and 177,000 people, public health officials say — this in a county with more than 700,000 people.
And in Island County, the story will be similar, enough vaccine to initially treat between 5,000 and 20,000 people in a county of about 80,000 people.
“That’s not going to sit well with a lot of people… who are going to be scared enough to want to get the vaccine,” said Dr. Roger Case, health officer for Island County.
Normally, only 35 percent to 40 percent of people get the shot for the seasonal flu, he said.
“This year everyone’s going to clamor for it … because it’s in such short supply,” he said of the swine flu shot.
So who will be first in line to get a vaccine that is expected to be in short supply if a national immunization campaign is launched for swine flu?
In Snohomish County, priority is expected to be given to children, pregnant women, health care workers, police and firefighters, and people between the ages of 20 and 55 who have health problems that could put them at risk for getting seriously ill from the flu.
This list, from Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, is expected to be similar to those followed by public health agencies across the nation.
Children will be given high priority for the shot because they are known to be spreaders of influenza.
But there’s another reason, too. Swine flu has been hitting younger people the hardest. That’s one factor that makes it different from seasonal flu, which often hits seniors the hardest.
Those 24 and under have had the highest rates of severe illness from swine flu, according to the state Department of Health.
In Snohomish County, public health officials are working with area hospitals, clinics and pharmacies to come up with a plan on how to vaccinate the tens of thousands of people who would get the vaccine in a matter of weeks, Goldbaum said.
Five people in Washington have died from the swine flu, the most recent being a woman in her 30s from Pierce County.
Two men from Snohomish County have died from swine flu. One was a 39-year-old man from Lynnwood, and the other, in his 50s, was from Snohomish. Both died of viral pneumonia.
A total of 263 people in the United States have died from the virus since the outbreak began in April.
Washington is eligible for $7.3 million in federal grants to prepare for swine flu and seasonal flu this fall, state health officials say.
Up to $5.4 million would be used for improving flu monitoring and investigation and preparing for potential vaccine campaigns. About $1.8 million could be used to help hospitals and other health care facilities plan for emergencies.
The state is spending $700,000 to buy more stocks of anti-viral medications, enough to treat about 175,000 people in Washington, said Gordon MacCracken, a spokesman with the state Department of Health.
The severity of flu in United States during the spring and summer months by this new type of flu has only been matched in years when there’s been major worldwide pandemics, such as 1918, 1957, 1968 and 1977, said Joe Quimby, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re early in this pandemic, so we don’t know what the future will bring,” he said. “We have to be prepared for all aspects of it — light, moderate, even extreme situations.”
Even if the virus comes back for a second wave of infections in the fall, it won’t be as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, predicted Michael Katze, a professor of microbiology at the University of Washington.
Health-care workers have medicines available now that they didn’t have then, such as anti-viral drugs, perhaps a swine flu vaccine and better surveillance, he said.
Case agreed. “We know so much more,” he said. “Medicine has made huge strides in the care of people with viral illnesses.”
Taking steps that health officials have emphasized for months — keeping kids home from school when they’re sick, covering coughs, frequent hand washing and avoiding crowds — “that will have more impact than whether they get the (swine) flu vaccine,” Case said.
“People need to realize that the ball is in their court.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486, firstname.lastname@example.org.