By Steven Reinberg
FRIDAY, Sept. 18 (HealthDay News) -- The first doses of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine will start shipping the first week in October, slightly earlier than expected, U.S. health officials said Friday.
These first 3.4 million doses will come in the form of the nasal spray FluMist.
"There is a good antibody response to the vaccine," Dr. Jay Butler, chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's H1N1 Vaccine Task Force, said at an afternoon press conference. "Adults appear to have a robust antibody response that suggests that a single dose can provide protection," he added.
However, FluMist is not recommended for children under 2 years of age; people with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes; pregnant women; or people older than 49. Children and pregnant women are among those at greatest risk for complications from the H1N1 swine flu, according to the CDC.
There may also be some injectable H1N1 flu vaccine available in early October, but how much is not known yet, Butler said.
The CDC expects doses of injectable vaccine to start shipping on a regular basis by mid-October. When the program is fully up and running, the agency expects about 20 million doses of vaccine will become available each week until all 195 million doses are distributed by sometime in December, Butler said.
Federal health officials are recommending a single dose of the H1N1 vaccine for people 10 years of age and older, and two doses for those younger than 10. That's the same regimen recommended for seasonal flu vaccine, he noted.
The swine flu vaccine will be distributed to the states based on population and the number of doses requested, Butler said. In all there are 90,000 distribution sites nationwide, he said.
The imminent arrival of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine is welcome news, because the flu -- which continues to produce mild illness and fairly quick recovery in most people -- continues to spread around the country. That's unusual because the typical seasonal ("regular") flu season doesn't start until well into Fall, Dr. Daniel Jernigan, deputy director of CDC's Influenza Division, said during the press conference.
"The flu season has begun," Jernigan said. "It's begun early and nearly all the influenza we are seeing is this novel H1N1 virus," he said.
As has been the case since the H1N1 flu first surfaced in Mexico and the United States last April, children and young adults are being hit the hardest, Jernigan said. "We are finding that flu is being reported in all 50 states with 21 states reporting widespread activity," he said.
"We don't see that kind of activity this time of year, usually," he added. "It's a very strange thing for us to see that amount of influenza at this time of year."
Currently, twice the usual number of people are seeking medical attention for flu, Jernigan said, adding most of the cases are moderate infections.
"We do expect a whole lot more illness in the coming weeks and throughout the coming U.S. flu season," Jernigan said. "We expect if the H1N1 remains the predominant strain that more younger people will be affected."
That's the reverse of what usually happens with seasonal flu, which strikes hardest in the elderly.
Jernigan said it's important to get an H1N1 flu shot when the vaccine becomes available. People should also get a seasonal flu shot -- which is available now -- because the seasonal flu will start to circulate in the coming weeks, he said.
According to the CDC, those first in line for swine flu shots should be:
- Pregnant women.
- Children and young people from 6 months through 24 years of age.
- Health-care workers.
- Adults with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease, or weakened immune systems, including cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, organ-transplant recipients and people infected with the AIDS-causing HIV virus.
People who should get a seasonal flu shot include:
- Adults 50 and older.
- All children age 6 months to 18 years old.
- Pregnant women.
- People with chronic health problems like asthma, heart disease or a weakened immune system.
- Health-care workers.
- Caregivers of people at high-risk, including babies younger than 6 months of age.