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Local News

H1N1 Flu Vaccine Remains in Short Supply

With a limited number of shots to go around right now, county officials are focusing their efforts on residents considered high risk

If you’re generally healthy and come down with the H1N1 flu this season, staying home and riding out normal flu symptoms is probably your only option.

A limited supply of vaccines in Santa Barbara County are being targeted for those who are especially high risk: If you’re a pregnant woman or a medically fragile child or young adult, those vaccines are for you.

The target groups were the subject of a news conference Monday at the county Public Health Department.

Officials are facing a serious shortage of vaccines and received 4,400 of them, even though about 60,000 county residents are classified as high risk. The health department is working to get vaccines in the hands of all obstetricians and pediatricians in the county by Wednesday.

The vaccine is still the most effective tool against the virus, said Dr. Peter Hasler, the county’s medical director and interim health officer, but there has been a significant delay in production and delivery of the vaccines to localities.

“Those are things that are largely out of our control,” he said, adding that why more vaccines aren’t available is a question for the manufacturers.

The county is expecting another major shipment of the vaccine by mid-November, about 40,000 doses, which will go to the health department and to medical providers. Additional shipments should arrive in the meantime.

With concern so high for pregnant women, the health department is offering special clinics this week for them only. The clinics are open to all pregnant women in the county, regardless of insurance or prenatal care provider.

They are:

» Lompoc Clinic: 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at 301 North R St.

» Santa Maria Clinic: 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at 2115 Centerpointe Pkwy.

» Franklin Clinic (Santa Barbara): 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at 1136 E. Montecito St.

Hasler offered guidelines for people who are generally healthy but find themselves coming down with symptoms. “If you’re mildly or moderately ill, just stay home and take care of yourself,” he said. Residents also are encouraged to scour the department’s flu Web site, www.sbcfluinfo.org, or call the advice line at 888.722.6358.

Dr. Peter Hasler, the county's medical director and interim health officer, says the vaccine is still the most effective tool against the H1N1 flu
Dr. Peter Hasler, the county’s medical director and interim health officer, says the vaccine is still the most effective tool against the H1N1 flu. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

If a person feels he or she is seriously ill, Hasler said to call a health care provider right away.

People who have been sick for more than five days and are getting worse, and people who have gotten better but are relapsing also need to call a health care provider.

H1N1 symptoms are the same as normal flu symptoms — coughing, sore throat and high fever — so it’s important for people to recognize them and whether they’re in a high-risk group, said Michelle Mickiewicz, deputy director of community health and interim department director.

As with any contagious illness, prevention makes a huge difference. “Stay home if you’re sick,” she said. “Don’t bring that to school or to work with you.”

Sneezing into your elbow instead of your hands and washing your hands frequently also are key.

“This is a challenging situation,” Mickiewicz said of the vaccine shortage, adding that she is confident enough vaccine will come in — over time — for the people who want it.

From June 23 to Oct. 21, 31 people in Santa Barbara County were hospitalized for H1N1. Of those patients, 60 percent were younger than age 24, and the most vulnerable group — based on that data — were patients ages 5 to 24.

Three deaths have occurred in Santa Barbara County from H1N1, and all had underlying medical conditions, said Susan Klein-Rothschild, assistant deputy director of community health programs at the health department.

Cottage Hospital spokeswoman Janet O’Neill said the hospital has seen “a slight increase in what we call flu-like illness.”

The hospital is exercising precautions and has put up signs to remind people to wash hands and put on a mask if they have a cold.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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