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Q&A: Expanding Availability of the Vaccine

December 7, 2009

Q: Why is H1N1 vaccine now being offered to individuals outside of the high-priority groups?

With an increased supply of H1N1 vaccine now available to providers, some jurisdictions have started to reevaluate their systems for administering the vaccine to make it widely available. This can seem confusing just a few weeks after health groups were emphasizing the importance of vaccinating the high-risk groups first and foremost.

According to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) guidelines those put at the front of the line for vaccine include: pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than six months of age, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel with direct patient contact, children six months through four years of age, and children five through 18 years of age who have certain high risk medical conditions.

As of Dec. 4, 72.6 million doses of H1N1 vaccine are available. This is twice as much as was available a month ago, and 10 million more doses than last week.

Certain states and communities or jurisdictions within states have expanded access to the vaccine to others outside of the high-risk group. While this is a change from the earlier policy, the move remains consistent with the ACIP guidelines: “Decisions about expanding vaccination to include additional populations beyond the five initial target groups should be made at the local level because vaccine availability and demand might vary considerably by area.”

While jurisdictions have the flexibility to make decisions about opening up vaccine in the way that they think is most effective, the guidelines encourage expanding to those under 65 only after the younger group demand has been met.

Local health departments’ decisions about expanding availability depend on local need and demand, as well as systems of delivery. Eventually, jurisdictions nationwide may open up access to vaccine.


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