County to receive more federal funds than anticipated to combat influenza

By EVAN YOUNG

St. Louis County is receiving more federal grant money than it originally anticipated to protect residents from influenza.

The County Council approved expedited legislation last week that allows the county Department of Health to accept up to $4 million in grant money from the Centers for Dis-ease Control and Prevention over the next three years.

County health officials initially anticipated $3 million over three years, but were informed by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services last week the amount would increase. The first installment of the grant money — roughly $1.9 million — was expected to arrive by today, Oct. 15.

The money will be used to support the county’s mass immunization campaign ahead of a potential local flu pandemic.

More than 750 cases of influenza A have been reported in the county since Sept. 1, and 35 of them have been identified as novel H1N1 flu, according to a health department report released last week.

However, the report notes that the actual number of H1N1 cases could be more be-cause not all flu cases are tested for the H1N1 virus.

While seasonal flu shots are available to the public now, the county received its first round of H1N1 flu vaccine last week.

Five-thousand doses of “flu mist” nasal spray vaccine arrived Oct. 5. Additional doses, including injectable vaccine, will be delivered over the next few months until the demand for immunization this flu season is met, Director of Health Delores Gunn said.

The initial 5,000 flu mist doses will be administered to paramedics and emergency room physicians and staff, as recommended by the CDC.

Then, because the H1N1 virus targets specific groups of people, individuals who are most at-risk — pregnant women, children 6 months to 4 years, young adults 24 years or younger and adults with chronic illnesses — will be offered the vaccine as more doses become available.

While many people will have a choice between receiving the vaccine by either injection or nasal spray, the latter option is not recommended for pregnant women or individuals with chronic illness because it contains the active H1N1 virus, whereas the injectable vaccine contains the inactive virus, Gunn said.

The flu mist is intended for healthy individuals ages 2 through 49, specifically healthy school children, who may find the injectable vaccine unpleasant, she said.

All of the county’s school districts will receive the vaccine in both its injectable and nasal spray form, Gunn said. The schools’ nurses will be responsible for administering the doses.

In addition, the county already has partnered with more than 220 private physicians to administer the vaccine, she said.

Gunn said she expects that anyone who desires to receive an H1N1 vaccine eventually will be able to, though she noted the general public likely will have to wait several weeks before being offered immunization.