H1N1 flu shots: Pregnant women, health care workers and children first

Americans older than 65 are not on the CDC's priority list for the pandemic flu, but should still be vaccinated for seasonal influenza.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Aug. 12, 2009

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When the influenza A(H1N1) vaccine becomes available, the first wave of recipients should include pregnant women, health care professionals and children.

The priority list was compiled July 29 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which convened a special meeting to determine who should receive what could be a limited supply of vaccine.

The vaccine is in development and has not yet been tested for safety and efficacy. It is expected to be available in mid-October.

The first priority group of recipients would be pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months, health care and emergency personnel, people 6 months to 24 years old, and people age 25 to 64 who are at high risk due to chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

That group totals about 159 million Americans. The number of vaccine doses is expected to be between 120 million and 160 million, and each person is likely to need two doses for optimal protection, said Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. But there may not be a shortage of doses because it is unlikely everyone in the first priority group will come forward.

The advisory committee also created a plan in case the number of doses available in the fall is much smaller than expected. If that occurs, the priority group would be narrowed to 40 million people and consist of pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months, health care and emergency personnel with direct patient contact, children age 6 months through 4 years, and children age 5 to 18 who have chronic medical conditions.

Unlike past influenza outbreaks, people age 65 and older are not in the priority group because the H1N1 virus appears to have low impact on this demographic. Younger people are more seriously affected.

But older people should continue to be vaccinated for seasonal influenza, which takes a greater toll on this age group, Dr. Schuchat said. The CDC recommends that nearly everyone in the nation receive the seasonal flu vaccine. Manufacturers have begun shipping supplies.

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