Children's Hospitals begin first round of H1N1 vaccinations

Catrina Skoog
Catrina Skoog, 6, receives a shot of H1N1 Influenza Vaccine at Children's Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009. Skoog, who was categorized as an extremely high-risk patient because she has Down Syndrome, a heart defect and immune supression issues, was one of the first patients that received the injectable H1N1 Influenza vaccine at Children's Hospital.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Some of the state's most medically vulnerable children got vaccinated Thursday against the H1N1 influenza virus.

Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota received 1,000 doses of injectable vaccine this morning and immediately began offering the doses to patients.

Six-year-old Catrina Skoog from Cottage Grove was among the first group of Minnesota kids today to get the pandemic flu vaccination.

Catrina's mother, Tracy, didn't know the H1N1 shot would be available when she brought her daughter to Children's special needs clinic today. But she didn't need any convincing that it was a good idea to give Catrina the vaccine.

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"She has Down Syndrome and she also has a heart defect and lots of other medical issues," she said. "So even the common virus can land her in the hospital."

Catrina got vaccinated even though she might have already had H1N1. Skoog says her daughter had flu-like symptoms three weeks ago. Her doctor gave her a prescription for an antiviral medication and Catrina recovered after a few days, but the case wasn't confirmed with a lab test.

Skoog will have to bring her daughter back to Children's in another three to four weeks to get a second dose of the vaccine. Kids 9 and under need two doses because one vaccination doesn't produce an adequate immune response.

Children's predicts it will use up its injectable doses within a day. More vaccine will likely arrive in the days ahead. But demand will outstrip the supply for many weeks.

Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner and the hospital's director of infection disease, says parents will not be able to make appointments to get the vaccine initially because Children's is hand-picking the kids who should receive the first doses.

"We've been careful and thoughtful, including our hospital ethicist and a team of people looking at national guidelines," she said. "Those kids with the highest need and complex disease are the ones that we're vaccinating here today."

Children's is also giving some of the injectable doses to its pregnant health care workers who cannot receive the nasal spray form of the vaccine.

Stinchfield says she knows the process is frustrating for people who want the vaccine and can't get it right now.

"We want to get vaccine out to everybody as soon as possible and we will," she said. "We will have supply that will be abundant. And when we do we will be notifying all of our Children's patients and we will be bringing them in and vaccinating them as soon as possible."

But it now appears that Minnesota probably won't get as much vaccine in October as the CDC initially suggested. Vaccine manufacturers are having trouble getting good yields from the virus that they're growing in chicken eggs.

Kris Ehresmann, who manages the state's immunization program, says her previous projections of a plentiful supply by early November are probably overly optimistic.

"If you can be vaccinated before Thanksgiving, that's something to be thankful for," she said.

The Minnesota Health Department says nearly 10,000 doses of injectable vaccine were sent out this week to ten regional health providers, including Children's. The agency is not releasing the names of the clinic locations because it doesn't want patients overwhelming them with vaccination requests.

Today or tomorrow another vaccine order will be placed for 40 randomly picked rural clinics. Those clinics should receive their doses early next week.

So far about 48,000 H1N1 vaccine doses have been distributed in Minnesota.