Highest priority:

• High-risk children (all children 6 to 23 months and children 2 to 18 years with underlying chronic medical conditions including those on chronic aspirin therapy.

• Appropriate residents of long-term care facilities.

Next level, the most vulnerable:

• Adults 65 years and older.

• Adults younger than 65 suffering from chronic underlying medical conditions.

• Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season.

Priority on standby:

• Health care workers involved in direct patient care.

• Caregivers of infants younger than 6 months.

(Source: Maine Bureau of Health)

Maine kids, elderly to get first shots at flu vaccine

LEWISTON – Children and people living in long-term care facilities will be first in line for flu vaccine.

The city’s two health centers issued a joint announcement Sunday saying they intend to follow state guidelines. The Bureau of Health updated the guidelines Friday, setting priorities intended to provide immunization to society’s most vulnerable people.

Among them: Kids 6 to 23 months or 2 to 18 years if suffering from chronic medical conditions, and “appropriate” residents of long-term care facilities. The bureau didn’t define “appropriate” in a Web site posting put up late Friday.

Jim Cassidy and Peter Chalke, the presidents and CEOs of St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and Central Maine Medical Center, respectively, signed an open letter to the community that appeared as an advertisement in Sunday’s Sun Journal. Joined by Dr. Sandra Harris, chairwoman of the hospitals’ infection control committees, they noted that due to the shortage of flu vaccine nationally, the available supply doesn’t “come close to matching the anticipated need.”

The hospitals are pooling what vaccine they do have, the three said, and will initiate “a phased effort to provide the limited flu vaccine to those who need it the most.”

They said the young and those living in nursing homes and similar facilities will be inoculated during the rest of October.

Once that population is served, the state listed second and third tiers of priority patients. The third grouping, “on standby” for vaccine if it becomes available, includes health care providers with direct patient contact.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, the director of the state Bureau of Health, said last week that Maine is attempting to secure a supply of FluMist, a more expensive nasal alternative to vaccine that could be provided to doctors, nurses, therapists and others who have direct patient contact.

The mist uses a live virus to help recipients build up immunity. People who receive the mist are supposed to avoid contact with ill or weakened people for at least a week to avoid spreading flu germs.

The availability of regular flu vaccine was greatly restricted about two weeks ago when British authorities impounded vaccine destined for the United States but made in England by a California-based company. The vaccine was contaminated, the British said.

Since then, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been narrowing guidelines determining who should get what limited supplies are available. The state and the city health care centers are following those guidelines.

The CDC on Friday said that for the week ending Oct. 9, influenza activity nationwide “occurred at a low level.” Five confirmed flu cases were found among 518 specimens that were tested. Three of the cases were type A and two were type B viruses, the CDC said.

The type A cases were found in the East, North Central and Mountain regions and the type B cases occurred in the South Atlantic region.

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