Swine flu vaccine finally arrives

The long-awaited swine flu H1N1
vaccine finally arrived in Cayman on Wednesday night and people began lining up
for their free shot at the Cayman Islands Hospital next morning.

Two-year-old Preston Stock and his
mother Mariana were the first to offer their arms up for the injection,
administered by staff nurses.

Mrs. Stock, comforting her son who
cried as he received his injection, said she had opted to get the vaccine for
her two young sons because they were prone to getting colds and flus.

“Preston’s already had the seasonal
flu shot and I thought it was for the best if I got him this one too,” she
said.

Minutes later, Preston’s little
brother, 22-month-old Pierce and his dad David, showed up for their vaccines.

The Health Services Authority’s
Medical Officer of Health Kiran Kumar also received the vaccine, called Panenza.

“I’m relieved they’ve arrived,” he
said. “We don’t know how the virus is going to behave. The number of cases is coming
down, but there is still a flu pandemic.”

Dr. Kumar added: “Although we are
only testing severe and other selected cases, the fact that 20 tested positive
for H1N1 during the past six weeks shows that the pandemic flu is still the
leading flu in Cayman right now.

Delays

Cayman has been waiting for the
vaccine for several months and attempts to secure it has been thwarted a number
of times. The most recent delay was due to a strike by the staff of the French
pharmaceutical company, Sanofi Pasteur, which manufactures the vaccine.

Pascale Gillon, who is seven and a
half months pregnant, was one of the first people to avail of the vaccine at
the atrium of the Cayman Islands Hospital in George Town on Thursday morning.

“I’ve been calling the hospital for
about three months. They kept saying they were going to receive the vaccine,
first in October, then in November… I kept calling.

“I’ve been really concerned. My
doctor recommended I get the vaccine and I’ve just been waiting for it to
arrive. It’s a big relief,” she said.

Pregnant women are one of the
priority groups that are being targeted by the health authorities to receive
the vaccinations.

The Women’s Health Clinic at the hospital
will hold a special vaccination clinic for pregnant women today [Friday, 22
January] from noon to 7pm.

Alice Jackson, 69, also chose to
get vaccinated. “I’m from an asthmatic family and anything I can do to prevent
something is better than having to cure it. I get my flu shot each year, so now
I’m getting this one too,” she said.

Public demand

A steady stream of people poured
into the hospital atrium on Wednesday as word that the vaccine was available
spread. Parents brought young children and elderly people passing on their way
to other appointments stopped to receive the shot.

Demand for the vaccine has dropped
in countries where it has been available for months, but medical officials
think there will be a relatively strong demand for it in Cayman, especially
among high-risk groups, like asthmatics, diabetics, pregnant women and people
with underlying medical conditions. Health care workers are also being given
priority in receiving the vaccine.

Cayman Islands Hospital medical
director Dr. Greg Hoeksema said: “The anxiety level has decreased, but the
virus is still active on the Island. It has started to taper off a bit.”

However, he said a young teen
patient had tested positive for the virus in late December and had needed to go
on a ventilator at the hospital.

“Most cases have been mild, but now
and again, it can be dangerous. We don’t know how different people will be
affected,” he said, adding that he had received his vaccination in the US and
that he intended to give it to his two children.

Lizette Yearwood, the chief
executive officer of the Health Services Authority, revealed that she did not
need to join those getting the vaccination because she and her husband had both
already had H1N1 and had become quite ill last year.

Availability

The Public Health Department is
considering opening clinics at supermarkets and other public places, and it is
likely arrangements will also be made to make the vaccine available at schools,
health officials said.

It is also going to be made
available to private practitioners and at the Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial
Hospital.

Health minister Mark Scotland urged
all residents to get immunised.

 “With H1N1 flu declining in many countries, I
am concerned that people may become complacent, thinking that this is all over.
We have a window of opportunity to limit the impacts of the pandemic flu, and I
urge people to take advantage of the vaccination programme.

“Vaccinations provide a chance for
people to protect themselves and reduce the risk of serious complications,” the
minister said.

FYI

Free
H1N1 vaccines are available at the atrium of Cayman Islands Hospital, Mondays
to Fridays, 10am to 4pm, and at George Town General Practice Clinic, all
district health centres and Faith Hospital, Cayman Brac, Mondays to Fridays
from 2pm to 4pm.

Dates
for Little Cayman will be announced later.

Top Story Swine

Two-year-old Preston Stock, the first person to receive the H1N1 vaccine, reacts to getting the shot from Nurse Valerie Myrie, as his mother Mariana comforts him.
Photo: Norma Connolly
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