Flu vaccine programmes being fine-tuned

Cayman’s public health officials are fine-tuning the H1N1 flu vaccination strategy in anticipation of a probable second wave of H1N1 flu cases this fall, meeting this week with Pan American Health Organisation representatives to discuss the matter.

‘We are fairly sure about two things: There will most likely be a surge in flu cases this fall, with seasonal flu coupled with the pandemic H1N1. And, as all countries around the world, we will only have a limited amount vaccine immediately available,’ Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar cautioned.

The Public Health Department staff has gone to great lengths to ensure Cayman will receive sufficient H1N1 vaccine to immunise all residents, but they do not expect enough doses available for everyone right away.

‘As global stocks will be inadequate, we will vaccinate the high risk groups first, and as more vaccine becomes available, we will move on to the rest of the population,’ Dr. Kumar noted.

He emphasised that there will be two separate vaccines this year, one for the seasonal flu and another for the H1N1 flu.

‘The seasonal flu vaccine will be available in early October and although we don’t have a date yet for the H1N1 vaccine, it is expected to arrive in October as well,’ Dr. Kumar said.

The results of the safety studies for the H1N1 vaccine have just been published but a final date for distribution of the vaccine has still not been determined.

‘The good news is that the studies have shown the vaccine to be safe and effective just like the regular seasonal flu vaccine,’ Dr. Kumar noted.

At its weekly meeting on 15 September, the Health Services Authority’s Flu Response Team reviewed international guidelines and formulated a vaccine strategy for the Islands.

According to the recommendations, pregnant women, children and adults with chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, respiratory conditions (asthma), and immunodeficiency, as well as health care workers, are all priority groups for H1N1 vaccine.

‘After we have vaccinated those groups, we will work our way through the rest of the population – children ages six months to four years; healthy children ages five to 18 years; healthy adults aged 19-49 years, followed by other age groups,’ Dr. Kumar said.

The Cayman Islands reported its first H1N1 case a little over three months ago on 4 June, and confirmed one H1N1 death in July.

‘There have been 101 H1N1 flu cases confirmed to date with about 2,000 flu-like illness cases that were appropriately treated and recovered at home,’ Dr. Kumar stated.

Although to date the H1N1 flu causes mild to moderate illness in most patients HSA Medical Director Dr. Greg Hoeksema reminded the public that ‘we will still see severe cases that can result in hospitalisation or even death’.

‘We anticipate that these severe cases will occur again in the Cayman Islands with the fall flu wave just as they have with the first wave here and around the world. That is why the vaccine will be an important part of the strategy to minimise the impact of H1N1 in Cayman,’ Dr. Hoeksema said.

Local flu statistics as of 12 September indicated that 76 per cent of all confirmed flu cases (a total of 101 cases) since June were due to the pandemic H1N1 virus. The other 24 per cent were confirmed as being various strains seasonal flu viruses.

The majority of the cases (48 per cent) occurred amongst older children and young adults in the 10 to 39 age group.

Dr. Kumar noted that the incidence of flu cases has now stabilised and there has been only one confirmed case of H1N1 in the last four weeks.

However, he cautioned residents to stay vigilant. ‘Staying home when you are sick, keeping sick children out of school and frequent hand washing remain the best defences,’ he said.

For more information on H1N1 visit www.CaymanPrepared.ky or www.hsa.ky. The Health Services Authority also offers the public direct responses to their flu queries through its flu email and message system – [email protected]. This complements the 24-hour flu hotline (926-2812) manned by HSA staff.