Indiana, Tennessee Begin Swine Flu Vaccinations

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Indiana and Tennessee are among the first states in the nation to vaccinate people against the swine flu. Anne Schuchat, head of Immunizations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the CDC decided to start the program as quickly as possible even though it doesn't yet have large stockpiles of the vaccine.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The swine flu vaccine rollout has begun. About 250 doses in nasal spray form were given out today in Indiana and Tennessee. The Centers for Disease Control says hundreds of thousands of doses are in the mail to locations all over the country.

BLOCK: Earlier today, I spoke with Dr. Anne Schuchat. She is the head of immunizations for the CDC, and she had just visited Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis. She explained who's receiving those first doses.

Dr. ANNE SCHUCHAT (Director, National Immunizations Program, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): The state and large city health departments are directing the vaccinations to the places that can begin offering vaccine. Many of the states are targeting health-care workers. We want those health-care workers to be able to be healthy and able to work - and also not spreading flu to their vulnerable patients.

BLOCK: Is it a voluntary program for health-care workers in Memphis? I know in some places, it's not.

Dr. SCHUCHAT: Absolutely. You know, in Memphis, it's a voluntary program and they were lining up to be among the first vaccinated. I think the staff at this hospital had seen the effects of flu firsthand. They'd set up a tent to care for the surge of patients that were coming in. So, the nurses and caregivers were really keen to be able to protect themselves.

BLOCK: This first batch of H1N1 vaccine that's going out around the country - is that just nasal spray, or is it a shot?

Dr. SCHUCHAT: Yeah. The first several days of vaccination, we've just got the nasal spray available, and that's a great vaccine for people who are under 50 or over 2, who aren't pregnant and don't have chronic health conditions. We expect by later this week to have some of the first doses of the injectable vaccine making their way out to those sites. And of course, there will be more vaccine coming out every day. Each week, there'll be more supply. But the first few weeks will be bumpy. We know that we don't have as much as we'd like to have. We made that decision to start the program as quickly as we could, even though we didn't have large stockpiles of the vaccine yet.

BLOCK: And you said it might be bumpy. In other words, people might be looking to get the vaccine, being told they don't have it. They could get discouraged, right, and just turn off altogether.

Dr. SCHUCHAT: We hope people will be patient. Vaccine is coming, and it will be near you soon. But the first few weeks, it'll be going to a limited number of places. But we know that we've bought enough vaccine for everyone who's going to want to be vaccinated.

BLOCK: You mentioned that the nasal spray is not suitable for a number of people including pregnant women, those with chronic health issues. Why is that? These are some of the highest-priority groups for the vaccine. Why, or should they not be getting the nasal spray?

Dr. SCHUCHAT: The nasal spray is a live vaccine. It's made from a live virus. But it's a virus that's been weakened so that it cannot cause flu. Nonetheless, we don't like to give those types of vaccines to pregnant women or people with chronic health conditions. They all can receive the shot, the killed virus vaccine.

BLOCK: What are you telling people if they want to get both a seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine? Can they get those together at the same time?

Dr. SCHUCHAT: We think that it's fine to get two shots at the same time - the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 flu shot at the same time at - in different arms. But we don't think you can get two of the sprays at the same time - the seasonal spray and the H1N1 spray. It's less of a safety issue than it is that we don't think they'll work that well if you give the two live viral vaccines at the same visit.

BLOCK: And how are people supposed to figure out who has the vaccine and where they're supposed to go to get it?

Dr. SCHUCHAT: Most of the state or large city health departments are setting up Web sites or call numbers where vaccination venues will be advertised. They may not be available just yet because the supplies are really just getting allocated. But really stay tuned to your state or local health department, look on their Web site or if there's a 311 or other call number, you might try that. We do think we'll be posting links to those sites at flu.gov. So, going to flu.gov will be a good place to be able to link in with your local or state health department.

BLOCK: Dr. Schuchat, thank you very much.

Dr. SCHUCHAT: Sure, my pleasure.

BLOCK: That's Anne Schuchat. She's the head of immunizations for the Centers for Disease Control. She spoke with us from Memphis.

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