City preps for second bout of swine flu

With Boston expecting another hit of the swine flu virus this fall, local health centers are working to set up flu clinics to vaccinate residents for both the novel virus and the seasonal flu.

“Everybody is prepared in case things go badly in the community,” said Edward Grimes, head of the Uphams Corner Health Center. “The first time was a surprise as all of us experienced.”

This year Massachusetts has seen 1,384 confirmed cases of the virus, scientifically known as the H1N1 virus, and 11 deaths. Sixty-four percent of the confirmed cases were children under age 18, leading to a number of school closings in the Boston area, including Dorchester.

Complicating matters is the fact that vaccinations must also occur for seasonal flu. Individuals will likely have to receive one shot for the seasonal flu and two shots of vaccine for the H1N1 virus. State public health officials estimate that this means they’ll have to administer as many as nine million doses of vaccine between September and December, three times the number they’ve handed out in the past for the seasonal flu.

The center is planning a health fair on Sept. 19 at the Strand Theater in Uphams Corner. Other community clinics will be held at 415 Columbia Road and 1140 Dorchester Ave. Grimes said they are also considering setting up a clinic on Election Day at 500 Columbia Road, a polling station.

“The focus will be on pregnant women, children, and young adults,” Grimes said. “Health care workers, of course, will receive their vaccine as well. We’re also preparing for an epidemic if it gets out of control and hospitals are oversubscribed.”

Jan Smith, director of clinical services at the Codman Square Health Center, said the center will likely start up flu clinics by October 1, though she warned that the H1N1 vaccine may not arrive from the federal government until mid-October. The center will have flu clinics “every day that we’re open,” she said. “I think people are really afraid,” Smith added. “Obviously, we’ll do a lot of marketing and education and have the health center available.”

Smith said the center has a nurse practitioner frequently stationed at Dorchester High School and they may up her presence there as a result of a potential epidemic.

City officials are planning a preparedness summit for tomorrow at Harvard Medical School. They will join their state counterparts, along with healthcare, business, and community officials to coordinate a response to a potential outbreak this fall.

Mayor Menino announced this week that city employees will be receiving two hours to get vaccinated for both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus, once that vaccine becomes available.

Grimes said his center still has some masks and medical supplies from the first round of swine flu infections. “We used a good chunk of that during the period ending in June,” he told the Reporter. “It really started to slow down here. We have replenished our supplies, have orders in for certain items in place.”

“It’s the little things that we can all do on a regular basis as a community – like hand washing – that can go a long way toward preventing illness,” added Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, in a statement.

State officials also moved last week to deputize dentists, pharmacists and paramedics, allowing them to administer vaccines to deal with the high number of expected vaccinations. Currently, licensed health care professionals such as physicians, nurses, physician assistants and nurse practitioners are allowed to administer the vaccine.

“The message is we will have H1N1 circulating in our communities this fall,” Lauren Smith, medical director for the state Department of Public Health, told reporters last week. “The idea is we need to prepare for it ahead of time.”

Codman Square Health Center’s Smith said the deputizing of dentists and others is helpful. “I think as many avenues or options that the community has, the better it will be on the whole for the community,” she said. “If they’re at CVS and giving out flu shots, that’d be great. EMS people, that’d be fine. The easier we can make it for our community to get a flu shot, the better it will be for all us.”

More information about swine flu in multiple languages is available at www.bphc.org/swineflu.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.