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Only H1N1 FluMist available now for area’s priority groups

With the supply of H1N1 flu shots all but gone Friday, so was the line that had wrapped around the Southern Nevada Health District.

Health officials had plenty of the FluMist form of the vaccination on hand, but it failed to generate the demand that prompted thousands of people to wait in long lines at the free clinic earlier in the week.

The health district stopped giving the shots to keep from exhausting its supply, spokeswoman Stephanie Bethel said.

“The reason we’re not giving it out is we don’t want to run out,” she said.

She said she didn’t know how many shots were kept in reserve, but health officials wanted to keep some on hand in case they needed to vaccinate a specific group such as pregnant women.

The health district won’t give the shots again until it receives a new shipment, which was expected late next week.

In the meantime, the FluMist vaccine, which is inhaled through the nose, will continue to be available next week at the health district’s main office, 625 Shadow Lane, near Charleston and Martin Luther King boulevards.

Because of the ample supply of FluMist, which Bethel estimated at 20,000 doses, health officials expanded the top age range of the priority group eligible for the vaccine to people between 2 and 24 years old.

The other priority groups are medical workers who have direct patient contact and people who live with or care for children under 6 months old.

FluMist is made with a weakened live virus, tamed in the laboratory so it cannot cause illness. The shot contains a dead virus. Health officials say fears of the FluMist’s live virus making them sick or spreading illness to others are unfounded.

Health officials say the FluMist is safe for healthy people between 2 and 49 years old who are not pregnant.

Nevada State Health Division spokesman Ben Kieckhefer said the state’s shipments of both vaccines this week contained about 50,000 fewer doses than state officials expected.

That should change once the vaccine makers ramp up production to meet nationwide demand, he said.

“It’s still trickling out of the manufacturers, but we expect in a couple of weeks we’ll be drinking out of a fire hose,” he said.

Meanwhile, more Americans have been vaccinated against seasonal flu this fall than ever before by this time of year, federal health officials said Friday.

Sixty million people have gotten the winter flu vaccine — probably because they’re paying more attention to flu warnings in general, thanks to swine flu. It’s an unprecedented number of seasonal flu shots for October; most usually aren’t given until later in the fall.

H1N1 is drawing attention to public health warnings that seasonal flu is also a deadly illness that can be prevented through vaccinations, said Joe Quimby, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Swine flu is more widespread now than it’s ever been, and has resulted in more than 1,000 U.S. deaths so far. Nearly 100 swine flu deaths in children have been reported, federal health officials also said.

Vaccine production delays caused officials to drastically reduce their estimates of how many vaccines would be available by mid-October. As of Wednesday, only 11 million doses had been shipped to health departments, doctor’s offices and other providers across the country, CDC officials said. But millions more doses are expected in the coming weeks.

Through Thursday, the state had received 55,200 doses of FluMist and 49,100 injectable doses since the first order was placed at the beginning of the month.

The vaccinations are distributed to the state’s counties based on population. Clark County received about 82,000 doses, which are shipped directly to the health district and health care providers such as obstetricians and pediatricians, Kieckhefer said.

He acknowledged that some people who aren’t in the priority groups have gotten vaccinations this week when they should have waited. But he said requiring proof that people are in a priority group by, for example, making them take pregnancy tests or producing birth certificates, would be a logistical nightmare.

“We have enough faith in the people in Nevada to do what’s right,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

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