Get ready to roll up your sleeve three times for flu shots this fall. Most people will need one shot for the regular seasonal flu and probably two others to protect against the new swine flu. Health officials expect about half of the more than 120 million doses of seasonal vaccine to be available by the end of this month. The rest are due out by the end of September. The five vaccine manufacturers that supply the United States — including one that makes a nasal spray version of flu vaccine — are the same ones making the swine flu vaccine. They are on track to start delivering the first batches of that in September, but larger deliveries will come in late October or November.
Why three jabs? Scientists believe the swine flu vaccine will be most effective if given in two doses, about three weeks apart. Combining swine flu and seasonal flu in one shot is theoretically possible, but decisions about what flu strains to use in this year's vaccine were made last winter and production was too far along by the time swine flu hit in April to alter the formula. Even if taken on the same day, the shots will come in separate doses.
Who comes first? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has two lists for who should be first to get the seasonal flu shot and who should be first to get the swine flu shot. For the regular flu vaccine, elderly people, health care workers and pregnant women are among the priority groups. For the swine flu vaccine, health care workers and pregnant women are on the list but not older people, who seem to have some immunity.
Tests quick, wrong: The first study of how well rapid tests diagnose swine flu found they are wrong at least half the time. The CDC looked at tests made by three companies. The tests correctly confirmed swine flu infections between 10 percent and 51 percent of the time, but were better at diagnosing seasonal flu. If doctors have doubts over test results, the CDC says they should order a more precise lab test but in the meantime prescribe medicines like Tamiflu.
Advice to schools: Federal officials plan to issue new guidelines for school closings today in hopes of preventing the panic and confusion that prompted hundreds of school closures in spring. The decision to close actually rests with local school officials, Education Secretary Arne Duncan says. "What we want to do is empower the local governments … to make the right decision."