The H1N1 swine flu strain will be included in this year's seasonal flu vaccines, which will be delivered to doctors' offices, clinics and other venues within the next few weeks, public health experts said Monday.
Combining the H1N1 strain into the seasonal vaccine made sense, experts said, because H1N1 has become a somewhat more stable virus, but remains the dominant form of influenza causing illness worldwide.
"Flu viruses are very unpredictable," said Dr. Gary Leonardi, a virologist at Nassau University Medical Center, who monitors flu activity on Long Island for the state Health Department. He said there's no way of telling now what the virus will do later this year.
Last year's flu season was marked by vaccine shortages and angry health care workers who refused to be vaccinated amid claims the H1N1 vaccine was not fully tested. But experts Monday vouched for the vaccine's safety.
Plans are under way for campaigns to encourage the public to be immunized. Vaccinations can begin as early as September.
"Our planning at this point is to coordinate very closely with county health departments once again," said Diane Mathis, a spokeswoman for the New York State Health Department. "But we expect, as with previous years, that physicians will receive their vaccines directly from manufacturers."
Last year there were two vaccines: the regular seasonal doses and the special production of H1N1 pandemic flu vaccines.
Doctors received seasonal vaccines directly from manufacturers but H1N1 doses arrived through a special distribution program overseen by the state health department.
Dr. Eli N. Avila, deputy health commissioner for Suffolk County, said his department is gearing up for flu season and has already ordered vaccines for its senior-health and other county-run programs. "We have ordered 55,000 doses and 25 percent of those vaccines are expected to arrive in August," Avila said Monday.
Priority groups, such as the elderly, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems remain a focus of flu vaccination programs. "I will insist that all of my asthmatics get vaccinated," said Dr. Harvey Miller, an Islip immunologist and asthma specialist.
Dr. Laurie Ward, who chairs community medicine at NUMC, said her department has pre-ordered 30,000 seasonal flu doses. NUMC coordinates flu vaccination programs with Nassau's county health department. A portion of those doses will be used to vaccinate the medical center's staff.
"We did very well with seasonal flu last year," Ward said. "Seventy percent of the staff accepted the seasonal flu vaccine, which is high. Health care workers have always been recommended to get it."