Hospitals today began to receive the first doses of a vaccine designed to ward off a potential H1N1 flu pandemic -- this, after months of anticipation and debate over who would be the first to be vaccinated.
Le Bonheur Hospital in Memphis and Wishard Health Services in Indiana were among the very first hospitals in the nation to receive vaccines on Monday, vaccinating about 150 and 100 staffers respectively.
And though rollout was limited to healthcare workers, both said that so far, at least, the deployment of immunizations has gone smoothly. Hospitals in Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota and Chicago also reported receiving their first batches.
"This has been a shining example of no delay," said Susan Cooper, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, after Le Bonheur's shipment arrived. "The vaccine has come out, it's come out a little bit earlier than expected, it hit the ground and we were able to very quickly start the immunization process, and that's something I think that we should be very proud of."
While she was not certain why Le Bonheur got the H1N1 vaccination early, Cooper said she suspected it was because the Memphis area has been particularly hard hit. More than 6,000 cases have been reported there, and more than 100 children have been hospitalized, so people in the region are more likely to seek the vaccine.
"It would make good sense, since Le Bonheur is the premier pediatric hospital in that area, it would make sense to make sure their workforce is protected," she said.
For Wishard, based in Indianapolis, it may have been a matter of good homework.
"Indiana was one of the first states selected because they were one of the first states that had their paperwork in very quickly," said Collette Duvalle, director of communications for the health department in Marion County, which includes Indianapolis.
Hospitals have begun immunizations for health care workers, following the recommendations made for swine flu, but Cooper said that since the first vaccines are available in the nasal mist form, giving it to health care workers is the only proper way to go.
"What we know is this nasal mist that's been distributed cannot be given to pregnant women, or children or adults with chronic disease," she said. Those are groups that public-health officials say should also be high on the priority list for vaccination.
"Healthcare workers certainly need to be at the front of the line, because if any Tennessean gets sick with H1N1 or has a heart attack or has any condition [that requires medical attention], we want to make sure that the healthcare workforce is sufficient to take care of their needs."
"My sense is people understand that healthcare professionals will be the ones taking care of people, so it's important for them to be immunized," said Michelle O'Keefe, director of public affairs for Wishard. "We want our employees to be here and be well, and I get the sense that people understand that."
Hospital officials said they could not predict what might happen as vaccines become available to members of the general public.
Sara Burnett, a spokeswoman for Le Bonheur, said that while hospital workers have begun to receive vaccine, they have also received inquiries from people who cannot yet get vaccinated but want to receive it.