LEWISTON — Anticipating the arrival of the first doses of injectable H1N1 flu vaccine next week, Maine officials are recommending those most at risk for the illness be targeted first. That group includes health care workers, pregnant women and children. Area clinics say they are preparing to distribute the vaccines.

Though about 15,000 doses of nasal spray H1N1 flu vaccines arrived in Maine this week, they were not recommended for pregnant women.

Maine is expected to receive 340,000 doses of vaccine in the next eight weeks, which falls short of the amount needed for the priority groups, according to a press release from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued Wednesday.

This shortage may lead to further prioritization, said Dr. Dora Ann Mills, director of the Maine CDC.

“The first few weeks of vaccine distribution will be rocky and unpredictable,” Mills said in the release.

But top national health officials say there will be enough vaccine available to meet needs eventually.

“We will have enough vaccine in the weeks and months ahead for everyone who wants to be vaccinated to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases within the U.S. CDC during a weekly briefing with reporters.

“In some areas many people are seeking vaccine, and we know they are calling their health departments and their doctors to find out when it will be available,” she said. “In many areas people are asking a lot of questions to get that information to make those good decisions.”

Local hospital officials say they are receiving calls and are prepared to distribute the vaccine to the highest priority groups when it arrives.

“Our Women’s Health Associates health center, which is our community clinical services practice, has applied to get the vaccine,” said Jennifer Radel, a spokeswoman for St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center. “So when the shipment comes in, they will be providing them to their patients — it’s a practice with both OB-GYN service and midwives. So they will be providing (the vaccine) to their patients directly there.”

A spokeswoman for Central Maine Medical Center said they have already been administering seasonal flu vaccines to patients at their Women’s Specialty Health Center and letting them know that as soon as the H1N1 flu vaccine becomes available they can come in and get vaccinated with that.

Curious patients have been calling the center about the H1N1 vaccines, so the hospital is confident the word is getting out, she said.

CDC officials said states have already ordered about 3.7 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine.

There’s no exact count available for all H1N1-related deaths and hospitalizations, but the latest numbers from the CDC show the virus is responsible for more than 600 deaths and more than 9,000 hospitalizations since April.

Schuchat, of the U.S. CDC, said 76 children have died of the virus. Up to 30 percent of those cases involved underlying illnesses, she said. Seasonal flu kills between 46 and 88 children annually, according to CDC data.

“Unfortunately, we do expect more illness, including more hospitalizations and death, to be occurring in the weeks ahead including in groups like children and pregnant women,” Schuchat said during the Friday briefing.

Mills has said pregnant women should schedule appointments with their clinicians in the coming weeks to get vaccinated.

Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced her department would be launching a series of national television public service advertisements to encourage Americans to get vaccinated against the H1N1 virus.

For more information, visit www.maineflu.gov or www.flu.gov.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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