From Our 2009 Archives

How to Get H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine

Perseverance, Patience, Priority Status Key to Finding Flu Shots

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Nov. 6, 2009 -- You can get your H1N1 flu vaccine, but it will take perseverance, patience, and priority status.

The Latest on
H1N1 Swine Flu

Priority goes to people at risk of severe flu if they catch the H1N1 swine flu bug:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who live with or care for infants younger than 6 months of age
  • Health care workers and emergency medical personnel
  • Anyone age 6 months to 24 years of age
  • Anyone age 25 to 64 with certain chronic medical conditions

State and local health departments may further restrict eligibility until supplies increase.

But there are some 154 million U.S. residents in these groups -- and so far, only 38 million doses have been available to states. About 10 million more doses have been flowing into states each week.

To be one of the millions of people getting the vaccine, you'll have to work at it. That's no surprise to most people who've tried to find the vaccine. A Harvard poll released today shows that 41% of parents tried to get the vaccine for their kids; two-thirds failed.

The good news is that only 29% of parents said they were very frustrated -- and 91% said they'd try, try again.

That's how Angie Kiblinger got shots of the H1N1 swine vaccine for herself -- she's seven months pregnant -- and for her 18-month-old daughter, Hazel.

Kiblinger, who lives in Hillsboro, Ore., last week checked with her obstetrician and her pediatrician. Neither one had the vaccine or knew where she and Hazel could get it. So Kiblinger, who is enrolled in the WIC program, a federal program that provides medical and nutritional assistance, called her local WIC clinic. The news was good: They told her they had it.

On the appointed day, last Friday, Kiblinger went to the clinic. She waited in line. She got to the front of the line. But the it turned out the clinic had only the inhaled version of the vaccine, which is not approved for pregnant women or kids under age 2.

Going back to the drawing board, Kiblinger checked the web site of her county health department. There she easily found a list of public clinics offering the H1N1 swine flu vaccine. But there was a catch.

"They were holding clinics at local schools, and had a full calendar of clinics -- but about half of them were postponed because they had not received enough vaccine," Kiblinger tells WebMD. "But one, about two towns over, said they'd have vaccine on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m."

So on Saturday morning the Kiblinger family hopped in the car and got to the clinic a half hour early. The line already was long.

"They said they had 700 doses, 400 of the spray and 300 of the injectable," Kiblinger says. "We waited in line two hours before they came out and started counting people. Then they cut off the line -- and sent a bunch of people home who were behind us. They said they couldn't be sure how much of each kind of vaccine would be left when we got to the front of the line -- that it would be close."

Over the next hour, the Kiblingers wound their way through the clinic. When they got to the front, she and her daughter got their shots. So far, so good: Hazel will need two shots for protection, so she'll have to get another shot in four weeks.

Looking for H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine

Like the Kiblingers, millions of Americans are getting flu shots and flu sniffs. Here's how they are doing it -- and how you can maximize your odds of finding H1N1 swine flu vaccine for eligible family members.

The first step should be to check the flu.gov web site. There's a map of the United States; click on your state and you'll find links to your state health department.

At this point, residents of different states will have different experiences. Some states offer information only about public vaccine providers (not all states allocate vaccine to private providers); others list both public and private providers. Some states have links to local health departments, and those local departments have information about where and when vaccination clinics will be held.

Whichever experience you have, it's a good idea to use your telephone -- frequently. Regularly check with your local health department and with vaccine providers in your area. If you want to see how much vaccine is flowing into your state, check the CDC's 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine supply status web page.

The key is to keep at it. There will, eventually, be plenty of vaccine. It's not clear when that will be.

"When we get to that sweet spot where it feels like there's plenty of vaccine is hard to predict," CDC immunization and respiratory disease chief Anne Schuchat, MD, said today at a news conference. "I am expecting in the next several weeks it will get better and better -- but we have been burned on predictions and I don't want to get more specific than that."

Don't forget that the H1N1 swine flu vaccine isn't the only vaccine that will protect you this flu season.

One vaccine nearly everyone overlooks is the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against the bacterial infections that make life miserable -- or even kill -- kids and older adults weakened by the flu.

And of course there is the seasonal flu vaccine, although it is looking like the 114 million doses that will be available this year won't be enough to meet the unprecedented demand. You can find a seasonal flu-shot locator at the American Lung Association web site.

SOURCES: Angie Kiblinger, Hillsboro, Ore.

Anne Schuchat, MD, director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC, Atlanta.

National Vaccine Advisory Committee Meeting teleconference, Nov. 6, 2009.

Blendon, R.J. Harvard School of Public Health, "Public Views of the H1N1 Vaccine Shortage," Nov. 6, 2009.

American Lung Association web site.

Flu.gov web site.

CDC web site.

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