Public Health

Swine Flu Prep: Let The Safety Tests Begin

swine flu

Will shots against this virus work? Only tests will tell. CDC hide caption

itoggle caption CDC

Vaccine makers have begun squeezing out the first drops of the new H1N1 flu vaccine and rushing them to several sites around the world for tests of safety and effectiveness in people.

On Monday's All Things Considered, NPR's Joanne Silberner reports from Baltimore on how everything went on their first day — why 400 people in the city have volunteered to get the experimental injections this week, and what sort of side effects they can expect. She'll be back on Tuesday's Morning Edition with an update on how the pandemic flu spent its summer vacation, and what to expect next month.

Meanwhile, ATC's Melissa Block talks tonight with Dr. David Fleming, the Director of Public Health for Seattle's King County. Dr. Fleming is charged with getting whatever vaccine is delivered to Seattle in mid-October or so into the arms of nearly a million of his county's 1.8 million residents as quickly as possible.

The best way to do that, he says, is to beef up the usual distribution systems — adding extra volunteer docs and nurses to give shots in clinics, drug stores and maybe schools, too.

Though the H1N1 vaccine itself will be free, he says, people with health insurance will pay a small administrative fee that their insurer will pick up. Local and state government will pay for the shots of those without insurance.

Immunization, Dr. Fleming says, will be recommended but voluntary.

The ultimate decision whether or not someone receives it or not is their's. Or, in the case of a child, the decision is the parent's.

Fleming says what keeps him up at night is the unpredictable nature of the virus, in terms of severity. He's also thinking a lot about timing —- wondering when the next wave will hit.

I think it's likely that H1N1 will arrive from the Southern Hemisphere before October — maybe as early as September when school starts back up.

That means King County and many other spots could have at least two months when pandemic flu will be freely circulating before there's vaccine to check it.

"We're trying to prepare for that," Fleming says.

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