The U.S. government is a ramping up a drive to make sure that everyone in the U.S. who wants the H1N1 influenza virus vaccine can get either a shot or nasal spray for free or for a small charge.
At least 6 million vaccine doses will be distributed during the first week of October, with tens of millions to follow each week. In all, 250 million doses have been purchased by the federal government.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the Center for Disease Control's Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, met with reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday to provide an update on the national vaccination program for the H1N1 virus, often called the swine flu.
Said Sebelius, "There will be enough vaccine for every American who wants it."
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions: Q. Who will decide how the vaccine will be distributed?
A: State and local authorities have been putting together distribution plans with HHS overseeing the process to reach those who need it the most. The priority groups are:
People who live or work with babies six months or younger
Health care workers
People between six months and 24 years old
People between 25 through 64 who have health problems. Q. How much will the shot or nasal spray cost?
A: The vaccine is free. Providers may impose an administrative charge. Sebelius said she is asking providers to voluntarily waive fees. "So we hope by and large there won't be any financial barriers to people being vaccinated," she said. Q. How many doses of the H1N1 virus vaccine do I need?
A: Some news here: With this latest batch of vaccine, adults and children 10 years of age and older need only one dose. Kids under 10 will need two doses. Q. How soon after I get the vaccine will it start working?
A: More news. Much faster this time around. The protection is supposed to kick in eight to 10 days after being vaccinated. Q. If I already had a seasonal flu shot, should I still get a H1N1 vaccination?
A: Yes. One vaccination does not protect against both strains. Seasonal flu vaccines are available now and the advice is to get it now and go for the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available in your area. Q. Is the nasal spray for everyone?
A: No. It is not recommended for pregnant women and children under 3 or for some people with underlying conditions. Q. Who is most at risk?
A: "The severe illness, the hospitalizations and deaths, compared with seasonal flu, is happening in younger people, so people 65 and over are not likely to die from this compared with younger people," Schuchat said.
People with underlying conditions are most at risk: for example, pregnant women, those with asthma, other respiratory diseases, diabetes. Q. What if I get the flu?
Stay home, drink fluids, rest, don't infect others. The advice is the same whether you have seasonal flu or the H1N1 virus.
Said Schuchat, "We don't want them to come to work or school until 24 hours after their fever is gone. That will reduce the chances that they will spread the virus."