Sluggish delivery of the swine flu vaccine is putting thousands of Bay State residents at risk for the potentially deadly virus before they even get a shot at a preventative dose, public health watchdogs warned yesterday.
“The vaccination will be too late to stop the surge,” Lowell Health Director Frank Singleton told the Herald.
The deadly flu hit too late last year to be included in viruses covered by the seasonal vaccine, and it’s arriving much earlier than the normal flu season, said Alan Sager, a health policy specialist at Boston University.
“It’s like a pair of scissors closing at both ends,” Sager said.
Vaccine makers rushed to create and ship seasonal flu vaccines while also rolling out upwards of 200 million doses for H1N1 virus.
The concern comes as a small portion of the vaccinations – for use only by high-risk people such as health-care providers – dribbled into the Bay State yesterday.
The vaccine won’t be available for the state’s general population until mid-November, so hospitals and lawmakers across the state began scrambling this week to prepare for the hard-hitting illness.
A report last week by the Trust for Americas Health estimated that up to 2.2 million Bay Staters could contract swine flu, and nearly 32,000 of them may need to be hospitalized.
“We’re trying to plan as best we can as the tsunami approaches,” Singleton said. “(Hospitals) are very stressed out right now. The system is maxed-out pretty close to capacity.
“It’s a race, and we know it’s going to be widespread but we don’t know when. With colleges in session, we should be seeing something pretty quickly,” he said.
Senate Public Health Committee co-chairwoman Susan Fargo (D-Lincoln) said Department of Public Health officials will brief lawmakers Thursday on swine flu preparations, and hospitals and DPH officials will meet Oct. 21 to prepare for a crush of patients.
DPH officials have said hospitals had alternative plans – such as additional cots – in the event of a pandemic. Jennifer Manley, a spokeswoman for DPH, said while she would have preferred to get the vaccine earlier, “we’ll make do with what we get.”
Bay State officials expect to receive 36,800 vaccinations by Oct. 12 for high-risk patients such as kids between six months and four years old, Manley said.
Health care workers in Indiana and Tennessee already were getting immunizations as of yesterday.
Anita Barry, director of the Boston Public Health Commission’s Infectious Disease Bureau, said she hasn’t received any vaccines yet but expects them to arrive shortly.