BROOKSVILLE — The swine flu vaccine has arrived in Hernando County.
But before you put down the paper or turn off your computer and rush to the doctor's office, keep reading: Supplies are still limited, and the intranasal mist vaccine that arrived this week is not appropriate for everyone.
The 1,100 doses arrived Tuesday at the Hernando County Health Department. The department immediately began distributing the vaccine to 13 health care providers in the county that had requested it, spokeswoman Ann-Gayl Ellis said. The Health Department will not be administering any of those doses, but did keep 88 doses for its staff.
The vaccines will be given only to healthy individuals between the ages of 2 and 49 and health care workers who have no underlying medical conditions, Ellis said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has set priority tiers for the vaccine. The first tier includes those who are at higher risk of becoming ill from the virus and developing complications: pregnant women; individuals ages 6 months through 24 years; individuals ages 25 to 64 who have compromised immune systems or other chronic medical conditions; health care workers who have direct patient contact; and those who care for infants younger than 6 months of age.
Some in the top tier are advised to wait for the injectable form of the vaccine. The first batch of injectable vaccine is expected to arrive in Hernando by the end of October, Ellis said.
Because the intranasal mist contains a weakened form of the live virus, it's not appropriate for pregnant women, people with underlying medical conditions and those younger than 2 or older than 49.
Healthy seniors are not in the top tier because those roughly 60 years and older have been exposed to a swine-flu-like virus in the past, which helps protect them, health officials say. Still, seniors are urged to get the vaccine.
"We're excited it's finally here, and we're excited to enact our distribution plan," Ellis said Tuesday as immunization clerk Sherry Christensen bundled boxes of the vaccine at the department's Brooksville office for distribution.
The Hernando County Health Department declined to provide the names of the 13 health care providers that got a batch of vaccines Tuesday because they only got enough for their staff. Officials recommend calling your physician or checking with local walk-in clinics.
Officials hope that large enough shipments of the intranasal and injectable vaccine will arrive to open community clinics. The tentative plan is to hold the clinics at the Hernando County Fairgrounds in Brooksville and possibly at Hernando and Nature Coast Technical high schools, Ellis said.
She said there is no plan to administer the vaccine to students during school hours, but the clinics will be open on the weekends. "So they're accessible to working parents and their children," Ellis said.
Officials expect to receive as many as 80,000 doses of the vaccine in the coming weeks, plenty for everyone in Hernando who wants one, Ellis said.
Hernando residents — and the people who care for them — are eager for the vaccine, said April Stellpflug, an administrative assistant for the two Care One Urgent Care centers in the county, and her husband, Dr. Bradley Stellpflug, Care One's medical director.
The centers — one on Mariner Boulevard in Spring Hill and the other on Cortez Boulevard in Spring Hill — get several calls each day.
"They want to know, 'Do you have the swine flu vaccine yet?' " April Stellpflug said.
The Care One centers see a combined total of about 500 patients a week, and a quarter of those patients have been showing up with flu-like symptoms, Bradley Stellpflug said.
At least two staffers have gotten ill, presumably with the swine flu, he said. "Everybody's glad (the vaccine's) here."
Care One got 100 doses of the vaccine Tuesday. The centers' staff of 15 or so will get vaccinated, and the rest will be available to the public first-come, first-served for a $10 administration fee, Bradley Stellpflug said.
Medicare and Medicaid and most insurance companies have agreed to cover the administration fee.
The Health Department will not charge a fee, Ellis said.
With a quick spritz in each nostril, April Stellpflug was among the first in the county to get the vaccine Tuesday.
She didn't even blink.
"There's no burning, no weird smell, no weird taste," she said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.