More adults eligible for injectable vaccine

In the wake of criticism from the State Health Division, the Southern Nevada Health District on Saturday will begin to offer the H1N1 vaccine to adults with medical conditions.

Richard Whitley, administrator of the state division, challenged the district’s decision to withhold the vaccine from this group, considered at high risk for flu complications, something health agencies elsewhere in the state hadn’t done.

In an e-mail to Dr. Lawrence Sands, the district’s chief health officer, Whitley pointed out that an HIV clinic in Reno had given the H1N1 vaccine to its patients, whereas at a similar clinic in Las Vegas, only health care employees, and not the patients they serve, received the vaccine.

"This example of disparity is unacceptable," Whitley wrote to Sands.

Sands responded in an e-mail that when vaccine is in short supply, the district is permitted to further prioritize among high-risk groups, and did so to protect people at greater risk, such as pregnant women and young children.

The conflict became public Tuesday, the same day the district announced four more deaths in Clark County related to H1N1, including those of two 54-year-olds. The victims, a man and a woman, would not have been eligible to receive the vaccine. The woman had an underlying medical condition. It was not known if the man did as well.

The other deaths were of a 17-year-old boy and a 6-year-old boy, both with underlying medical conditions. A health district spokeswoman would not confirm if the 6-year-old was Daejon Meadows. Daejon was a North Las Vegas boy with sickle cell anemia who, according to the Clark County coroner’s office, died Thursday from H1N1-related causes.

In an e-mail Whitley sent to Sands late Monday, he demanded that all five at-risk groups receive equal access to the vaccine throughout the state, as recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sands replied Tuesday morning, writing that he disagreed with the state’s interpretation of the guidelines and that the district is working in the county’s best interests to target the most at-risk groups.

Whitley replied that the vaccine was not in short supply at the district. According to State Health Division records, the health district had 40,000 doses of the vaccine, ordered an additional 40,000 doses for this week and had approved only 20,000 doses for private providers.

"Although I support local health authority control I must at the same time assure a statewide parity of access," Whitley wrote.

State Health Division spokeswoman Martha Framsted confirmed the e-mails’ legitimacy and said it was her understanding that the health district would expand the vaccine’s distribution because of Whitley’s e-mails.

Health district spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said the district had planned to expand distribution anyway, and had planned to announce this Thursday. Because the e-mails were made public, Sizemore said, the district was forced to move more quickly.

Two clinics will be held Saturday in Clark County for all high-risk priority groups under CDC guidelines. These include adults with medical conditions, as well as pregnant women, household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months, health care personnel who deal with patients, and all people ages 6 months to 24 years. People will not be required to document their medical conditions.

The clinics will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Foothill High School in Henderson and Centennial High School in northwest Las Vegas. Both injectable and inhalable versions of the vaccine will be available; however, only the injectable sort is suitable for people with medical conditions.

On Thursday and Friday, the vaccine will be offered to priority groups — excluding adults with medical conditions — from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Shadow Lane facility. Sizemore said the health district doesn’t want to extend the vaccine to adults with medical conditions before Saturday, expecting demand to be so high that it would disrupt other activities at the district.

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.

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