New York Businesses Get H1N1 Vaccine

To the list of hundreds of schools, hospitals, and community health centers that have received limited allocations of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine, you can now add some of New York's largest employers. In the past week or so 13 companies, including Citigroup (C) and Goldman Sachs (GS), have begun receiving small quantities of the vaccine, according to city health authorities. Citigroup has been supplied with 1,200 units and Goldman with 200, says Jessica Scaperotti, press secretary for the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. The agency has so far approved orders by 29 employers—including 16 that have yet to receive any vaccine—after they were cleared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Big employers that have received or are scheduled to receive vaccine so far include Time Warner (TWX), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Memorial Sloan-Kettering, New York Presbyterian Healthcare System, and New York University. Health-care workers at those employers are bound by the CDC to distribute the vaccine only to populations deemed to be at high risk of developing serious complications from swine flu: pregnant women, children and young people aged 6 months to 24 years, people who live with or provide care for infants under 6 months (who cannot be vaccinated), people aged 24 to 64 with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for flu-related complications, and health-care workers and emergency medical personnel. A spokeswoman for Goldman, who asked not to be named, said the company had just received the vaccine and did not yet have information as to how it would be distributed, saying that Goldman will supply vaccine only to those who qualify as high-risk, per the CDC requirements. Citigroup had not responded with a comment as of the evening of Nov. 2. Large Employers' Early PreparationsAccording to the city, Goldman has requested 5,300 doses. Only the company's two Manhattan locations are eligible to receive the vaccine because Goldman's other regional offices lack on-site health units, the spokesperson said. So far, only the 85 Broad St. location has received vaccine. The spokeswoman said the company knows of no employee who has fallen ill with swine flu, "but obviously you have to be prepared." Like many large employers, Goldman Sachs has been preparing to deal with swine flu for months. "In addition to the internal planning effort, we have been actively engaged with key firms in our supply chain, industry peers, regulators and exchanges, and local health authorities to ensure mutual support and coordination of efforts," the company said in a public statement on May 6. "It's not that they received it over someone else, it's that they placed an order…This is not out of the ordinary," says Scaperotti of the city's health office. "A lot of businesses hold vaccination programs for their employees. These locations are important vehicles for vaccinating people." New York has a comprehensive vaccination program for schoolchildren, Scaperotti says. It is currently vaccinating pupils in elementary schools and will begin weekend vaccination clinics for middle- and high school kids next weekend. Any New Yorkers who do not have primary-care physicians can go to the city's vaccine locator Web site to find vaccination sites in their communities. New York Is Still OrderingResponsibility for developing individual vaccination plans normally falls to the states, which place all swine flu vaccine orders for registered health-care providers with the CDC. But New York's five boroughs fall under the jurisdiction of the city's Health & Mental Hygiene Dept. McKesson (MCK), a San Francisco-based health-care services and IT company, distributes all vaccination doses and the ancillary medical supplies that health providers need to administer them. The ordering system is designed to ensure that people who fall into federally recognized risk groups get priority access to available supplies, Scaperotti says. Eligible providers receive vaccinations in small amounts on a rolling basis as the requested formulations—injections, nasal spray, and so forth—become available. "We have not yet placed complete orders for everyone who has put in [a request]," she says. When the swine flu vaccine started becoming available this fall, the agency directed all available doses to pediatricians, obstetrician/gynecologists, community health centers, and public and private hospitals. As the supply grew in recent weeks, Scaperotti says, the department placed additional small orders for providers that serve adults, both in private practice and in community settings such as employee health centers. The gap between supply and demand for the vaccine is diminishing: As of Oct. 30, 26.6 million doses were available—10.5 million more than had been available a week earlier. Still, fears persist of vaccine shortages that could leave those at risk vulnerable. The swine flu vaccine is "not nearly as available as we would like," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the CDC director, at an Oct. 30 press conference. At High Risk: 42 Million AmericansThere were more than 440,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1 and more than 5,700 deaths reported as of Oct. 25 to the World Health Organization, which declared the outbreak a global pandemic in June. But because many countries have stopped counting individual cases, particularly when the effects have been milder, WHO says it's likely the actual count is significantly higher. Teenagers and young adults continue to account for the majority of cases around the world, while WHO says pregnant women are 10 times more likely than the general population to check into an intensive care unit. In a typical flu season, 90% of the deaths occur in the over-65 demographic, whereas the swine flu pandemic has taken the opposite course. "This is a younger people's flu," Frieden noted. On Oct. 23, President Barack Obama declared a national emergency. The White House said the move was largely procedural, unrelated to any indications that the pandemic was growing more severe. There are approximately 42 million people in the U.S. who qualify as members of the highest-risk subgroups with priority access to the swine flu vaccine, according to the CDC. "We decided early on that we would look to health-care providers in the state as the best way to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible to those groups in high priority by the CDC," says Claire Pospisil, spokesperson for the New York State Health Dept. "Eventually there will be enough vaccine for everyone that wants one, but initially—because H1N1 is affecting [the aforementioned groups] at much higher risk than the general population—it makes sense to get them the vaccine first."

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