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County develops H1N1 vaccine plan

Oregon's first doses of H1N1 influenza vaccine are expected to arrive next week, and local public health officials have developed a plan for immunizing children and adults at schools, medical clinics and nursing homes across Jackson County.

The county will receive about 1,800 doses of vaccine in the first delivery, said Viki Brown, director of public health services. Brown said the county has made arrangements to eventually have the vaccine available at about 70 sites, including many pharmacies, pediatricians' offices, family practice physicians' offices and school-based health centers.

Brown said vaccine will be distributed to the sites as it becomes available, and the sites will be posted soon on the county's Web site, www.jacksoncounty.org.

Dr. Mel Kohn, Oregon's public health director, said in a Wednesday press conference in Portland that there should be enough vaccine available by mid-October for large-scale vaccinations.

Kohn said researchers have determined that no one has much immunity to the new virus, so he encouraged people to get vaccinated.

He said the first vaccine doses that arrive will be in the form of an inhalable mist, which has been certified for use in people ages 5 to 49. Injectable vaccine will be available later in October.

Kohn said the vaccine will be distributed to counties equally on a per-capita basis. Each county has developed its own plan for making the vaccine available.

He noted that federal officials expect there eventually will be 300 million doses of vaccine available, which would be enough to vaccinate nearly every person in the United States.

“The way this is going to play out, we expect to have plenty of vaccine,” Kohn said.

Vaccine for seasonal influenza is available. Kohn recommended people get both vaccinations.

Brown said there likely will be “lots” of in-school vaccination clinics to immunize youngsters who seem to be especially vulnerable to the H1N1 virus. There are more than 12,000 students in the Medford School District alone.

“To reach that number of children there's not any other way to do it,” she said.

School districts that have their own nurses most likely will handle their own immunizations. County public health workers will administer the vaccine in school districts that lack the resources to do it on their own.

Brown said the in-school vaccination effort is the largest of its kind since the polio immunization campaign of the 1950s, in which millions of children were immunized.

“This is going to be a critical piece of history for these children,” she said.

Brown said the federal government paid for the H1N1 vaccine. Private health care providers may decide to charge a fee for administering it, but there will be no charge for immunizations provided by public agencies.

“It's still not clear how we on the public health side will be compensated,” Brown said, for costs such as hiring part-time staff to administer immunizations.

She said it's still hard to say the extent to which the virus will affect day-to-day life. Even if it doesn't turn out to produce serious illness, the virus already has disrupted daily life for parents whose children have been sent home with flu-like illness. In Prospect, for example, dozens of parents are having to make arrangements for child care because the school was closed by a flu outbreak this week.

“Those kinds of impacts are going to be huge,” Brown said.

She said the H1N1 virus is behaving unlike the ordinary seasonal influenza virus. It continued to cause illness during the summer, unlike seasonal flu, and it is causing widespread illness much earlier in the fall than typical seasonal flu viruses, which often don't peak in Oregon until January.

“We'll see how it all goes,” she said.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.