Pregnant women and those who care for the youngest infants are going to get the first crack at the H1N1 flu vaccine in Arizona, according to plans by the state health department.
The disclosure comes in a report to the governor released Tuesday detailing how state health officials hope to minimize the impact of the H1N1, which has also been called swine flu. They are counting on the number of cases to start increasing this month, though the vaccine may not be available until mid-October.
Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, added that there should eventually be enough supply from the federal government so that anyone who wants to be immunized should be able to get it.
He predicted that Arizona will eventually get 5 million doses and said he doubts that every one of the approximately 6.5 million Arizonans will want inoculations.
But the supply won't happen all at once. In fact, Humble said, the state is likely to get only 900,000 doses in October.
The rest will arrive in the following months, possibly as late as January. And that, he said, means a need to prioritize.
But priorities mean that someone has to be at the bottom. In this case, Humble said, that means everyone 65 and older.
Humble said the decision to put the elderly at the bottom of the list comes from federal guidelines.
He said, though, the state does not intend to monitor how private doctors, who will be getting some of the doses, use their share.
For example, he said, a doctor may find he or she has just 400 doses to get through November. Humble said it will be up to each physician to decide exactly how to allocate that.
"We're giving them guidance in terms of using that on their priority groups," he said. "But we also expect them to use clinical judgment."
Humble said that means a doctor remains free to decide to vaccinate an older patient who has a chronic respiratory condition that would make them particularly susceptible to the flu.
That priority list does not bother Gov. Jan Brewer, who turns 65 next week.
"From everything we've heard, it doesn't really affect the elderly as bad as it does the younger children," the governor said.
Humble said that even with the vaccine, up to 40 percent of Arizonans could become infected before the end of the year. Not all those, of course, would have serious complications.
"Part of it has to do with how seriously Arizonans take this and take their responsibility to their community," Humble said. "If people are diligent about not sending their children to school sick, if people are diligent about not going to work sick, folks take the hand-washing stuff seriously, we could make a decent dent in it."
Even as the state prepares for mass inoculations, the Department of Health Services also has come up with protocols designed to limit the spread of infection and how long those who do get infected should stay away from others.
"We're seeing a lot of transmission of the new virus in our elementary schools right now," Humble said. "The most important thing that the public can do is make sure that they don't send their kids to school when they're sick."
In fact, the health department report says students - and staff - should stay home at least 24 hours after they no longer have fevers and chills, without the use of any fever-reducing medicines. That applies whether or not someone has received the vaccine.