Prescribing patience – Menino says city will act quickly once vaccines are available

As hundreds of East Bostonians lined up outside the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) over the weekend to receive their annual seasonal flu shot, there was a lot of talk and questions in the line about when the state will start dolling out the highly anticipated H1N1 vaccine.

The clamor here and in other Boston neighborhoods has Mayor Thomas Menino urging Boston residents at high risk of getting the 2009 H1N1 virus to be patient in light of anticipated delays in the delivery of the vaccine.

Last week Menino joined public health officials in outlining the city’s vaccination plans once ample supplies of the vaccine arrive.

“When we get the H1N1 vaccine, we will move it out as quickly as we can,” said Menino. “We will work in partnership with community health centers, hospitals, and primary care providers to ensure that these providers are able to vaccinate their patients, particularly those at high risk.”

Of the roughly 270,500 doses of the H1N1 vaccine shipped to Massachusetts so far, about 27,000 doses have been distributed to healthcare providers in Boston for pregnant women, children, and health care workers. But this has left a large population with health risks like asthma prone to the disease and more likely to develop complications from the H1N1 flu.

The Boston Public Health Commission has been told it can expect 200 doses of the nasal spray this week. Those at highest risk for 2009 H1N1 influenza include children six-months-old to 24-years old, adults under 65 with underlying health conditions, people in close contact with infants under six months, and health care and emergency medical responders.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said that in addition to working with local healthcare providers, the agency’s H1N1 vaccination plan will include a series of free public flu clinics in neighborhoods across the city once the vaccine is available.

She said the initial doses the Public Health Commission receives will go to front-line public health clinical staff and emergency medical responders who have direct contact with patients. Community health centers like EBNHC will also be assisted if they need additional vaccine for patients at high risk. Once there are enough vaccine doses the Commission will sponsor public health clinics.

“Our promise today is that once vaccine arrives at the Boston health department, we will keep residents informed about where and when they can get vaccinated,” said Dr. Ferrer. “And although initial efforts will prioritize vaccinating those at risk of complications from flu or transmitting it to those at high risk, we have been told by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that later in the season, there should be enough doses available to vaccinate all who request H1N1 vaccine.”

As of September 1, there has been very little influenza-like illness reported in Boston, said Dr. Anita Barry, director of the Bureau of Infectious Disease at the Boston Public Health Commission. Only one confirmed 2009 H1N1 case and 30 Influenza Type A cases have been reported to the Commission since Sept. 1, she said. While residents await the arrival of more H1N1 flu vaccine, Dr. Barry said they can help prevent the spread of flu by covering their cough and sneeze, washing their hands frequently, and staying home if they’re sick.

So far this season, the Public Health Commission has vaccinated 30,000 people, significantly more than in previous years. Many more Boston residents have been vaccinated by their primary care provider or at other sites. The Public Health Commission is continuing to provide seasonal vaccine to community health centers for free flu clinics for Boston residents.

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