Health workers to be among first to get H1N1 vaccine

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Cheryl Teitz, assistant emergency room director at PRMC, adminsters a shot at Plains Regional Medical Center. Adminstrators stress the hospital won’t be giving H1N1 vaccinations and the flu shot will only be available through regular medical providers.

By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico

Vaccine for the H1N1 flu virus is expected to begin arriving in New Mexico this week and this year there will be a twist for local medical providers.

They will be among the first to get shots.

Monday, The New Mexico Department of Health announced 12,000 doses of nasal H1N1 flu vaccine will be shipped to medical providers statewide sometime this week. Nationally, hospitals in Indiana and Tennessee were the first to receive vaccines for H1N1, sometimes referred to as the swine flu.

Officials at Plains Regional Medical Center in Clovis reported being inundated with patients complaining of flu-like symptoms.

Monday, patients wearing protective masks were a common site at PRMC emergency. A day earlier, the emergency room set a hospital record, treating 109 patients in a 24-hour period, said PRMC Administrator Hoyt Skabelund.

Skabelund said he originally thought the first vaccines wouldn’t be available to the area until mid-October. When they do arrive, health care workers at his facility will get inoculated.

According to the state Department of Health, health care workers are among the priority groups to get doses first.

Others include pregnant women; those who live or care for children younger than 6 months old; those between 6 months and 24 years old; and those between 25 and 64 who have health conditions associated with a higher risk of medical complications from influenza.

“We’ll vaccinate (health care workers) according to their priority ranking. We’re the first line of defense for the community and it’s very difficult to run a hospital without healthy staff,” Skabelund said. “All of the staff who have direct contact with patients will be the first wave of vaccinations.

“My guess is that people become a little panicked and they come to the ER when they wouldn’t normally,” Skabelund said. “I think we feel comfortable that everything is going to be fine, but we wish everyone could feel the same level of comfort.”

Cheryl Teitz, permanent charge coordinator for the hospital, emphasized PRMC won’t offer flu vaccinations. She said any kind of flu vaccination should be acquired through the patient’s regular medical provider — not the emergency room.

“If we offered them, every person in Clovis, New Mexico would be coming through the door,” Teitz said.

She said testing for the H1N1 virus could be done through the PRMC emergency room, but results wouldn’t be immediate for the strain of flu.

While the A and B types of influenza — called seasonal flu — can be determined during the same visit, H1N1 results are generated through a lab in Albuquerque.

Terri Marney, emergency preparedness coordinator at PRMC, said the H1N1 factor is something extra that normally goes on in the fall.

“I think they’re worried about the flu in general and this isn’t any different than any other year. We’re very busy this time of year; it’s just starting earlier,” Marney said. “The key is we don’t overwhelm our emergency system for the people who truly have emergencies.”