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Seniors not first in line for vaccine

ALBANY -- People age 65 and older are not among the top priority groups for the H1N1 vaccine because older adults, who are among those hardest hit by seasonal flu, are least likely to catch the H1N1 virus, experts say.

This conclusion is based on laboratory testing indicating that older people likely have some pre-existing immunity to the virus.

"We are just seeing less incidence of the disease in that population," said Southwest Public Health District Deputy Director Brenda Greene. "For older people, it is thought they may have had exposure to flu viruses with similar components."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that hospitalization rates continue to be higher in younger populations, with the highest hospitalization rate reported in children 0 to 4 years of age.

Even though relatively few infections and even fewer cases of serious illness and death from H1N1 have occurred in people older than 65, experts say those who do become infected are at greater risk of developing serious complications. While people in this age group are not included in the groups recommended to get the inoculation's earliest doses, they can get the H1N1 influenza vaccine as soon as the high risk and younger groups have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

"As more vaccine becomes available, we will start to open (priority groups) up," Greene said. "We are still being told eventually there will be enough vaccine for everybody."

People 65 and older are prioritized to get antiviral drugs if they become sick with the flu, Greene added.

Health officials are asking older adults and others who are not targeted for the first doses of vaccine to be patient. Older adults are also encouraged to get a seasonal flu shot.

While flu activity remains high for the time of year, hospitalizations in Southwest Georgia remain steady. As of Monday, both the nasal spray and injectable forms of the H1N1 vaccine had quantities of 500 or less throughout the district.

"We still have a few doses left," Greene said. "The demand isn't quite as well as I thought it would be."

Greene also divulged that it is not clear when the next vaccine shipment will come to Southwest Georgia.

Since the first outbreak of H1N1 in April, approximately 130 children have died from laboratory-confirmed H1N1 cases in the United States, according to the CDC. Fifteen additional pediatric deaths during that time were laboratory-confirmed as influenza, although the virus subtype was not determined.

The injectable form of the H1N1 vaccine arrived in Southwest Georgia last week. The priority groups for the shot include healthy individuals ages 6 months to 24 years, those ages 25 to 64 with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, those who care for or live with those under 6 months of age and health care workers with direct patient contact.

More information is available by going online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org or www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/. Residents of Southwest Georgia may also call the district's toll-free flu hot line at (800) 829-2255.