Emergency funds sought for H1N1 vaccine

By EVAN YOUNG

County health officials are seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency funding to plan for a potential influenza pandemic this fall.

The County Council is scheduled to receive legislation next week requesting up to a $450,000 emergency appropriation from the health fund’s unappropriated balance.

The money would come in advance of a three-year, $3 million grant to the county from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ Center for Emergency Response and Terrorism. The county Department of Health plans to use the funds to prepare for a countywide H1N1 virus pandemic — including plans for a mass immunization.

As part the legislation, health officials also are asking the council to allow the department to accept the grant.

The first grant installment would arrive in late fall, but the health department needs emergency funding to ready county school districts, hospitals, private physicians and the general public for distributing and administering vaccinations, Director Delores Gunn said.

“We’ll need to start vaccinating as soon as possible, especially because children are back in school,” Gunn told councilmen during an Aug. 18 caucus.

The Department of Health typically does not dip into its reserves unless it’s facing a public health emergency, Gunn said. With none occurring in recent years, the department has built up the health fund’s unappropriated balance to more than $17 million.

That’s well above the minimum balance of 3 percent of the department’s total budget it typically maintains, Gunn said.

Further, the $450,000 emergency appropriation eventually would be replenished using the state grant, she said.

More than 40,000 cases of H1N1 virus — known as “swine flu” when it first was discovered this spring — have been confirmed in the United States since April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 300 people have died.

Gunn said more than 50 cases of the virus have been reported in St. Louis County since spring, with only one fatality.

“Now remember, at one point in time they actually stopped counting,” Gunn said. “So we believe that for every one person that actually was confirmed, there are about four or five more that were not.”

That would increase the number of likely U.S. cases to roughly 1 million and possible county cases to “several thousand,” she added.

Between 100,000 and 200,000 doses of an H1N1 vaccine will arrive in October, Gunn said. After that, the county will receive 25,000 doses a week until the demand for immunization is met, she said.

However, those initial doses will be reserved for specific demographics as recommended by the CDC, Gunn said. Paramedics and emergency-room physicians and staff will be the first to receive vaccinations, followed by pregnant women, children 6 months to four years, young adults 24 years or younger, adults with chronic illnesses and, lastly, the general public.

“This is not like the traditional, garden-variety seasonal flu,” Gunn said. “Our population focus is quite different than it has been in the past with this particular strain of virus.”

Of the county’s 23 school districts, 17 — including Lindbergh and Mehlville — are confirmed to receive H1N1 vaccinations, which will be administered by district nurses, Gunn said.

The health department also is working to get parochial schools and smaller school districts on board, along with hospitals and private physicians.

In addition, the department will conduct several influenza clinics throughout the fall for the general public, Gunn said.

“We’re hoping that the end result will be that everyone who desires to be vaccinated will be vaccinated,” she said.