WAILUKU - Maui health care providers have begun to receive the first shipments of H1N1 flu vaccine - but it's still too soon for many people to get the shot.
Health care workers and emergency services responders are at the top of the priority list. Others in the "tier one" group who are first in line for the vaccine include pregnant women, caregivers for infants under 6 months old, people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years, and adults up to age 64 with underlying medical conditions that put them at high risk of complications from flu.
That means healthy adults and school-aged children must likely wait several more weeks before they can be immunized. It will be even longer for senior citizens - who are believed to already carry immunity to the virus from similar strains that circulated before 1957.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Maui Medical Group President Dr. Bill Mitchell administers a nasal dose of the H1N1 flu vaccine to physician’s assistant Dana Thomason-Greer on Wednesday afternoon in Wailuku. “I usually get the flu vaccine each year,” Thomason-Greer said. “I don’t want to spread it to my family or to my patients.” Mitchell said that with its nasty reputation, H1N1 is a flu that people do not want to catch. The flu vaccine began being available this week, but it’s first being administered to high-risk people or health care workers.
"It's not a contest to see who can get this first," said Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang. "If we run out (of vaccine supplies) and we haven't covered health care workers first, they're going to end up spreading this thing. So we ask the public: don't try to draw from the first batch."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is releasing the vaccine to providers as it is being produced, so more batches will continue to arrive in the coming weeks, Pang said.
Some of the providers that have received the vaccine include Maui Medical Group, Safeway, the Maui Community College Health Center and Maui Memorial Medical Center.
However, not all those providers are offering the H1N1 vaccine to the general public. The MCC health center is immunizing only college faculty and students for now; and Safeway pharmacists are prohibited by law from vaccinating anyone under age 18.
Maui Memorial's supply is only being provided to hospital workers and some patients and is not available to the public now or in the future, said spokeswoman Carol Clark.
Kaiser Permanente clinics on Maui have not yet received shipments of H1N1 vaccine, said Kaiser spokeswoman Jan Kagehiro.
All the providers who do have the vaccine indicated they would be following CDC guidelines and offering it first to patients in the "tier one" priority group.
"We received an initial allotment yesterday of both types of H1N1 vaccine (nasal spray and injectable)," said Maui Medical Group President Dr. Bill Mitchell.
In addition to the other priority groups, Mitchell said, women who had recently given birth or were nursing infants should consider getting the vaccine, to protect their babies who are vulnerable to flu and too young to get the shot, and potentially so they could pass along some of their immunity through breastfeeding.
While Maui Medical Group will focus on immunizing people in the "tier one" group for now, Mitchell said it would be left up to each physician to decide when to administer the vaccine.
Safeway Kahului Pharmacy Manager Tricia Bergau said she also had both forms of vaccine available for people in the priority group. Under state law, pharmacists can't vaccinate anyone younger than 18, but Bergau said she hoped the state could make an exception for H1N1.
"In this situation, it would be good if we could vaccinate those younger children (like teenagers), because we are accessible, we're open until 7 at night, we're open on weekends," she said.
The maximum cost for Safeway's H1N1 vaccine is $15 (lower than the $30 charge for seasonal flu vaccine), and it may be covered by some insurers, Bergau said.
The vaccine is available during pharmacy hours, and Safeway will be holding a flu clinic from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at both the Kahului and Kihei stores, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lahaina store on Oct. 24.
At Maui Community College, Denise Cohen, an associate professor of nursing and a nurse practitioner, said the campus health center received its first shipment of vaccine on Tuesday, and had already begun providing it to health care workers on campus, including clinic nurses and instructors and students in the college's nursing, dental health and emergency medical technician programs.
She expected to begin making the vaccine available to all college students in the priority group beginning today. In the future, Cohen said she hoped the health center would offer H1N1 vaccine to the wider community.
"But first we want to take care of the Maui Community College campus," she said.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* This article includes a correction from the original published on Thursday, October 15, 2009. It reported partial incorrect information on the makeup of the priority tier group. Also, an incorrect date was listed for the flu clinic at the Safeway in Lahaina. The Maui News apologizes for the errors.