New date for swine flu vaccine

Ten thousand doses of the H1N1 flu vaccine are due to arrive in Grand Cayman next Tuesday afternoon, according to health officials.

The arrival of the inoculations on Island has been repeatedly delayed, but the vaccine is now scheduled to arrive on a British Airways flight on 12 January, Dr. Kiran Kumar, the medical officer of health for the Health Services Authority said.

‘They are scheduled to leave France on 11 January and arrive in Cayman the next day,’ he said.

The vaccine, which costs between $70,000 and $80,000, is coming from manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur in France and will be flown to Heathrow Airport in London and then onto Cayman.

In July, local health officials said the vaccine could arrive in October, although they acknowledged at the time this was optimistic. In October, they said they would arrive in November. When the vaccine failed to materialise, this led Minister of Health Mark Scotland to appeal to then-Governor Stuart Jack in early November to intervene with the UK authorities to send the vaccine to Cayman.

Last month, a government press release stated the vaccine would arrive in late December or early January.

Mr. Kumar said the Christmas and New Year holidays, as well as issues with British Airways, had delayed the arrival of the vaccine last month and it had been agreed that it would be shipped the week of 4 January.

He said Cayman had requested 10,000 doses of the vaccine because the average uptake overseas had been 7-10 per cent and he expected a similar uptake here.

Mr. Kumar added that the UK and Pan American Health Organisation had been willing to send up to 50,000 doses, but the health authority had decided to gauge the demand for vaccinations locally before ordering more.

‘We can get more within just a few days,’ he said.

‘We cannot give it to everybody overnight,’ he said, adding that a schedule to inoculate priority groups such as healthcare workers, pregnant women, asthmatics, diabetics and other high-risk individuals was being drawn up and would be publicised once the vaccine arrives in Cayman.

The vaccines will be available free of charge from the public health services.

Mr. Kumar said health officials were also talking to local private doctors about making the vaccine available at private practices.

Local importers will help store the vaccines until they are used, Mr. Kumar said.

By 19 December, Cayman had 118 confirmed cases of H1N1. These are cases which the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre, known as CAREC, in Trinidad confirmed from patients’ swab samples that the H1N1 virus was present. However, doctors have been treating any patients with fever and flu symptoms as having H1N1 for several months.