Minnesota counties are ironing out the final details on public vaccination clinics for kids that could begin as early as Nov. 16. A large shipment of H1N1 flu vaccine is expected to arrive in Minnesota counties by that date.
The supply is still limited, so the doses will only be available to kids age 9 and under. And Even then, counties won't have enough vaccine to immunize everyone in that age group.
So some counties are encouraging parents to check with their own health care provider first, to help conserve doses for under-insured and uninsured kids who don't have access to a doctor.
Ramsey County is planning to set up four H1N1 immunization clinics. The dates, times and locations are still in the works.
Jane Norbin directs health planning for the county. She says the clinics will be open to all children age 6 months through 9 years. But ideally, she says, the county clinics will attract kids who don't have other ways to get the flu vaccine.
"We are encouraging families who have private providers to use that resource as long as they have the vaccine," said Norbin. "We'll try to back up and be the safety net for people who don't have other places to go."
Norbin added that Ramsey County won't turn away children who do have insurance coverage.
Norbin says the clinics will probably be located in community buildings, rather than schools. The county is still talking with schools about using their facilities, but there are scheduling issues that might make those locations too challenging.
In Dakota County, officials say they won't bother with school clinics this month because they aren't getting enough vaccine to justify those locations.
Bonnie Brueshoff, Dakota County's public health director, said the clinics will be held in community buildings or county facilities, based on the availability of the space.
Dakota County also hopes to schedule its clinics during the week of Nov. 16. Brueshoff says the county has been told it will receive mostly the nasal spray form of the vaccine, which can only be used in healthy people from age 2 to 49. So she says the immunization campaign will focus mostly on kids from age 2 to 9.
Dakota County is still planning to set up school-located clinics in December to immunize older children, assuming enough vaccine is available by then.
There are some advantages to holding public vaccination clinics in places other than school buildings.
Susan Palchick, public health manager for Hennepin County, says, for example, it's easier to keep track of paperwork when kids don't have to take home consent forms for their parents to sign.
"If the parents are bringing their kids to a site, then you don't have that issue of worrying about consent forms that don't come back," she said.
Hennepin County is also expecting a limited supply of vaccine for its first public clinics. But Palchick says the county should be able to make a good dent in immunizing children against the H1N1 virus.
"We have enough to have a respectable size clinic. We just don't have enough to do all the 6-month to 9-year-olds in the county," she said.
Like Ramsey County, Palchick says Hennepin County is encouraging parents to check first with their health providers to see if they have vaccine, before bringing their kids to the public clinic.
She says the county wants to direct a good share of its vaccine to kids who don't have health insurance.
Public health officials have a lot of details to work out between now and mid-November -- not the least of which is figuring out when and where they can schedule a second round of public clinics in December.
That's when all the kids who get immunized during the first clinics need to return to receive their second dose of the vaccine. Without that second dose, the kids won't have sufficient protection against the H1N1 virus.