The swine-flu vaccine is in greater supply and is being administered with fewer restrictions in Stanislaus County than it has been in recent weeks.
Local health care providers still are the main source for vaccinations to protect people as they entertain guests through the holidays.
California's public health director said Thursday the state has sufficient supply to recommend that H1N1 vaccine be offered to the general population.
In accordance with federal and state guidelines, most of the vaccine has been given to high-risk groups — children, pregnant women, health care workers and adults with chronic illness.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
Now that more vaccine is available, evidence suggests the pandemic is easing off in California, said Dr. Mark Horton, state public health director.
Hospitals in the state were caring for 209 patients with swine flu this week, down from 248 the previous week, and physicians were reporting fewer cases to the state Department of Public Health.
Stanislaus County had two people hospitalized this week and two last week, officials said. Local hospitals were caring for up to 11 patients with H1N1 in previous weeks. Stanislaus has recorded 14 deaths and more than 190 hospitalizations since July.
Horton said at a press conference that H1N1 still was the predominant virus causing flulike illness in the state. "We are continuing to see this as a significant threat," the health director said.
The Sutter Gould Medical Foundation, which serves patients in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties, began lifting restrictions on the vaccinations last week. The medical group is scheduling appointments for any Sutter Gould patients who want H1N1 vaccine, as long as supply is available.
"We believe that most of the people who were in the high-risk area have been given the vaccine, and we have some extra supplies, so we offered it to any Sutter Gould patients who want it," said Craig Baize, a Sutter Gould spokesman.
The supply changes frequently, so patients should check the Web site www.suttergould.org for updates.
Because of the nationwide recall of 800,000 doses of preservative-free vaccine this month, the only vaccine Sutter Gould has for children ages 6 months to 3 years contains small amounts of mercury. Parents of children who need the second of the two-dose vaccination series must first consult their physician about the vaccine with preservative.
This week, Kaiser Permanente was offering swine flu vaccine to any Kaiser patients at its immunization clinic at 4125 Bangs Ave., Modesto. The flu shots or nasal mist are available at other Kaiser offices by appointment.
Other patients can ask if the vaccine is available from their physicians, although medical offices often operate with shorter staffs during the holiday weeks.
Order in for mass inoculations
Stanislaus County public health officials said they placed large orders for H1N1 vaccine last week to hold mass vaccinations. The dates and times of the public clinics have not been set.
"We are hoping to receive the vaccine by the end of the year or the first week of January," said Phoebe Leung, assistant director of the county Health Services Agency. "Even though we have not had mass vaccinations yet, people can still go to private health care providers."
As of Jan. 4, San Joaquin County Public Health Services expects to have enough H1N1 vaccine to offer to any county resident at its immunization clinics.
About 700 doses of the children's H1N1 vaccine that were recalled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month were allocated to Stanislaus County.
Health officials said there were no safety concerns for children. The vaccine was recalled because of concerns over potency if the prefilled syringes remained on shelves. The shots given to children before the recall should be potent enough to protect the children against the flu, the CDC said.
Sutter Gould received some of the H1N1 vaccine among the recalled lots. Some doses were administered to children before the recall, Baize said, and 155 unused doses were returned.
"Parents of children who received vaccine from the recalled lots do not need to take any action, other than to complete the two-dose immunization series, if not already completed," he said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at 578-2321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.