New York City to offer students free H1N1 vaccines

NEW YORK (Reuters) - All primary school-age children in New York City will be offered free vaccines for seasonal and H1N1 flu this year under a plan announced on Tuesday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The vaccines are part of the city’s strategy to combat the new H1N1 swine flu strain that hit the city hard during the spring, infecting an estimated 750,000 to 1 million people or about 10 percent of the population.

“We’ve looked at every eventuality we thought was somewhat probable and have planned for it. Hopefully, we won’t have to use any of it,” Bloomberg told reporters.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged state and local health departments to prepare vaccination plans ahead of an expected second wave of H1N1 as the northern hemisphere enters the fall and winter months.

Safety tests are being done on a vaccine for H1N1 and it is expected to be made available in the second half of October, according to the CDC.

The CDC is expected to send 1.2 million vaccine doses to the city by mid-October and an additional 500,000 doses every week thereafter and also to cover the $30 million cost, Bloomberg said.

Five companies are making swine flu vaccine for the U.S. market -- AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit, CSL Ltd, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Novartis AG and Sanofi-Aventis SA.

New York’s plan calls for distributing both conventional shots and MedImmune’s FluMist, which is sprayed in the nose.

H1N1 has killed at least 2,185 people globally since it began quickly spreading among humans earlier this year, according to the World Health Organization.

Because this virus is new, more people are susceptible to it and the WHO has been predicting for months now that 2 billion people will likely become infected.

White House advisers warned on August 24 that it could infect up to half the U.S. population, leading to as many as 1.8 million hospitalizations and 90,000 deaths -- more than double the number of fatalities seen in a typical flu season.

Swine flu disproportionately affects younger people, unlike seasonal flu which mainly burdens the elderly.

New York City’s vaccination plan calls for each primary school in the city to hold two vaccination sessions, about four weeks apart, Bloomberg said. Older students can report to a flu center in each of the city’s five boroughs.

The city will also turn some health clinics into specialized flu treatment centers, launch a web portal to track flu data, and dispatch hundreds of volunteer “flu fighters” to senior centers, schools and houses of worship.

The strategy was developed by experts from 15 city agencies who met throughout the summer.

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Paul Simao