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VOL. 124 | NO. 196 | Tuesday, October 6, 2009

First H1N1 Vaccines Given At Le Bonheur

By Tom Wilemon

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SEMINAL MOMENT: Tennessee Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, a registered nurse, administers the nasal mist version of the flu vaccine to Holly Smith, a nurse at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center. Smith volunteered to be the first person in the state to receive the new vaccine. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

Holly Smith, a registered nurse and mother of two young children, became the first Tennessean and one of the first people in the United States to receive the H1N1 vaccine Monday.

About 100 doses of the new vaccine arrived at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center. Memphis and Indianapolis were the first two cities to receive shipments of the vaccine, which was in nasal mist form. State Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, who is a nurse, administered the first vaccine as a long line of health care workers awaited their turns.

Smith volunteered to be first.

“I work in infant care,” she said. “These babies don’t have a developed immune system for a while. I think it’s really important for those health care workers who are around them to have the H1N1 vaccine.”

Nurses Whitney Smith, Allyson Murray and Brittany Cardell administered vaccines to the other workers, following comments from federal, state and local officials.

Precious cargo

Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, noted the importance of the day.

“This is just the beginning,” Schuchat said. “In the days and weeks to come, we have a lot of challenges. … At least today we are starting to turn the tide against this virus.”

The U.S. government is buying all the vaccines and distributing them through McKesson Corp., which is based in San Francisco. Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. noted that Memphis-based FedEx Corp. has contracted with McKesson to ship the vaccines.

Memphis has been a hot spot for the pandemic. The flu virus has been widespread in the Southeast, where the school year began earlier than in other parts of the country. Le Bonheur has seen such an increase in parents bringing their children to its emergency department that the hospital recently set up a triage tent to administer the vaccines.

The vast majority of the flu cases at Le Bonheur have been mild ones, and hospital officials have advised parents to contact their primary care physicians first if their children show flu-like symptoms.

Shields up

The hospital has treated about 6,000 children with flu-like symptoms. Dr. Keith English, medical director of infectious diseases for Le Bonheur, said160 of the children were admitted to the hospital, about 20 of them required treatment in an intensive care unit and three have died. The death of the third child had not been previously announced.

The third child, a 12-year-old boy who had an underlying health condition, died Thursday, said Jennifer Parris, a spokeswoman for Le Bonheur. Hospital and public health officials are no longer announcing deaths from flu complications, but are confirming them when media inquiries are made.

Federal and state governments have orchestrated the rollout of the flu mist vaccine, which was administered at Le Bonheur, and a shot so target groups at highest risk receive vaccinations first.

Target groups of the population for early vaccinations include children from 6 months old to adults younger than 25, pregnant women, people who care for children younger than 6 months old, health care workers, emergency personnel and people with underlying health conditions.

Eventually, the vaccine will be available to a broader group of the population. Yvonne Madlock, director of the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, said the agency was committed to providing vaccinations to target groups and to everyone who wants one when they become readily available. The agency has issued a call to hire temporary nurses to administer the vaccine.

The health department has set up a hotline at 379-4161 for people to learn more about the H1N1 flu.

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