By Karen Garlochkgarloch@charlotteobserver.com
After receiving a shipment this week of 1,400 doses of H1N1 vaccine, the Mecklenburg County Health Department is taking appointments to vaccinate people at high risk for complications from the swine flu.
Flu clinics start today at two health department offices, 249 Billingsley Road and 2845 Beatties Ford Road. Nurses will distribute about 500 doses a day, targeted for pregnant women, healthy children 6 months to 4 years old, children 5 through 18 with chronic health problems, and caregivers of children under 6 months.
Appointments can be made by calling 704-432-5100.
Supplies of the vaccine are still limited throughout the country, but the incidence of H1N1 flu is widespread. Actual cases aren't counted, but emergency rooms across the state report that about 10 percent of patients complain they have “influenza-like illness.”
“That's higher than what we normally see in seasonal flu in February,” said Dr. Stephen Keener, the Health Department's medical director. “It's been this way for six to eight weeks, rising fairly steeply until the last two weeks or so, when it leveled off a bit.”
While the pandemic has been characterized as mild, it can cause serious illness, especially in young children and pregnant women. In North Carolina, 45 flu-related deaths have been reported since the spring. Of those, three deaths have been among children. South Carolina has reported 24 flu-related deaths since Sept. 1, including four children.
Mecklenburg health officials said they believe they will have enough swine flu vaccine to start school-based clinics by mid- to late-November.
To prepare, Health Department and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials will send flu clinic information packets to parents of every school-age child this Friday. The packets will include consent forms that must be signed and returned if parents want their children to be vaccinated at school.
Parents should continue to try to get children vaccinated by private physicians if they can, said Maria Bonaiuto, director of school health.
Both Carolinas HealthCare System and Presbyterian Healthcare, Charlotte's two large hospital systems, have received limited vaccine supplies, some of which has been made available through hospital-owned doctors' offices.
Carolinas HealthCare has received less than 10 percent of the 500,000 doses ordered for 29 hospitals and about 500 other care locations in the Carolinas. Presbyterian has distributed about 10,000 doses in the Charlotte area.
Hospitals, the Health Department and MEDIC, Mecklenburg's emergency medical service, have been vaccinating health-care workers. Many area pharmacies have also distributed limited amounts of the vaccine.
The Mecklenburg Health Department has received about 8,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine, a fraction of the 160,000 doses it has ordered.
As soon as the department gets a weekly shipment of 4,000 doses, it will begin holding school clinics, said health director Dr. Wynn Mabry.
Bonaiuto said she expects about one-fourth of CMS students to get vaccinated in school-based clinics. The clinics will start slowly, with limited amounts of vaccine. She estimated it will take two to three months to vaccinate all the children whose parents want it.
UNC Charlotte offered H1N1 vaccine to students this week but fewer than expected showed up, said Dr. Robert Jones, medical director of the student health center. About 3,000 nasal spray doses remain from a total of 4,100, even after the clinic was opened to staff and faculty who may not be at high risk for flu complications.
Vaccine will be offered to students, staff and faculty this week, but remaining doses will be turned over to the Mecklenburg Health Department, Jones said.
To avoid the flu
Wash your hands frequently.
Cover your cough.
Stay home when you're sick.