Restrictions on swine flu vaccine are eased

Almost everyone in the Augusta area can now get the vaccine against the novel influenza A H1N1 virus, public health officials announced Monday.

While the state of Georgia relaxed the restrictions, it will be up to individual health districts to decide if they want to follow suit, based on their supplies of the vaccine, a spokeswoman said. South Carolina has relaxed restrictions on the nasal mist formulation but not the injectable kind yet, a spokesman said.

The 13-county East Central Health District headquartered in Augusta announced that anyone 6 months or older could receive the H1N1 vaccine. It had previously been restricted to those in the priority groups: pregnant women, people 6 months to 24 years old, adults ages 25 to 64 with chronic health problems, caregivers of an infant less than 6 months old and health care and emergency personnel. The district said in a statement that it would still concentrate its efforts on getting those groups the vaccine.

The Georgia Department of Community Health relaxed the restrictions but left the decision up to each area, spokeswoman Ravae Graham said.

"I believe the majority of them are going to open it up," she said.

Many elderly people who had not been eligible had been seeking the vaccine, Ms. Graham said. Unlike most seasonal flu viruses, the new virus strikes younger people hardest and has largely spared the elderly, perhaps because of exposure to an earlier, similar strain.

Lack of demand in the priority groups also led Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics to begin sharing some vaccine with other providers. "If we're going to use it, now's the time to use it," said James Wilde, a member of the health system's and the statewide pandemic planning committees.

As of Monday, Georgia had been allocated more than 2.5 million doses and has ordered more than 2.1 million. South Carolina has been allotted another 195,400 doses as of Monday, and when that order is received by next week it will have gotten just under 1.2 million doses of H1N1 vaccine, said Jim Beasley, spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

South Carolina is allowing nasal formulations of the H1N1 vaccine to go to healthy people ages 2 to 49, the only ones for whom it is approved. But the shots are still restricted to those in the priority group, Mr. Beasley said.

"We just don't feel comfortable opening up the limited supply we have right now to anybody and everybody," he said.

Nationally, the number of states reporting widespread flu dropped from 32 to 25 in the week that ended Nov. 28, another week of declining infection. In fact, Dr. Wilde said, in talking to three major Augusta hospitals "none of those three hospitals has had a positive H1N1 test for at least four weeks. It looks like it is definitely on its way out and may be gone altogether."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

SEASONAL FLU SHOT

Stewart Flanagin, owner of Hill Drug Co., 1432 Monte Sano Ave., said he expected to have 320 doses of seasonal flu vaccine available Thursday. A lot of people have been asking about it, he said. The shots will be offered for $30.

RICHMOND COUNTY

Schools will hold public health H1N1 vaccine clinics from 3 to 5:30 p.m.

- Today at C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet School, 1301 Wrightsboro Road

- Today at Goshen Elementary School, 4040 Old Waynesboro Road

- Wednesday at Warren Road Elementary School, 311 Warren Road

- Wednesday at Sue Reynolds Elementary School, 3840 Wrightsboro Road

- Thursday at Tubman Learning Center, 2216 Bungalow Road

COLUMBIA COUNTY

- The Columbia County Health Department will hold an H1N1 vaccine clinic from 3 to 6 p.m. today at Augusta Preparatory Day School, 285 Flowing Wells Road.

- The department will have a walk-in H1N1 clinic every Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its Evans clinic, 616 Government Center Way.

- Shots will be given out by appointment Monday through Thursday at the Columbia County clinics. For appointments at the Evans clinic, call (706) 868-3330; at the Harlem/Grovetown clinic, call (706) 556-3727; at the Appling clinic, call (706) 541-1318.

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