September 18, 2009

Seniors Sent To The Back Of The Line For H1N1 Vaccine

Kids are now jumping in front of seniors for the swine flu vaccine, since the elderly appear to have a greater immunity to the virus.

"I don't worry about getting it," 89-year-old Robert Goodman, a Boca Raton retiree, told the Associated Press. "At this age, who the hell cares? You take it as it comes."
In Florida, a place that approximately 3.2 million seniors 65 and older call home, seniors seem to have finally been spared by the new flu virus that is quickly spreading among the young.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll released last week, 82 percent of seniors said they will probably try to get vaccinated for the swine flu, which is higher than all other surveyed age groups.

However, most of those being interviewed were in agreement with the government's orders to put those at higher risk ahead of the line.

"We've been exposed to so many illnesses in our lifetime that if there's anything out there to be exposed to, we've probably already been exposed to it," said Jill Svoboda, a 68-year-old retired teacher from Bushnell, Florida. "I've had a damn good life. I'd like it to continue, but if it doesn't, them's the breaks."

Health care professionals and those who deal with the elderly on a regular basis say that some seniors have been asking questions about the swine flu vaccine, but that they were generally understanding when told how it would be distributed.

"There's actually some relief - not when I say you're not going to get the vaccine, but when I say you're not going to need it," said Dr. John Murphy, a geriatrician in Providence, R.I., who teaches at Brown University and is chairman of the board of the American Geriatrics Society. "And as that message gets out more and more, there will be less concern."

Under the Federal guidelines, the new H1N1 vaccine will first be administered to pregnant women, those who live with or care for children 6 months or younger, health care workers, people aged 6 months through 24, and people with chronic health problems or weakened immune systems.

That adds up to about 159 million people in need of the vaccine.

After these groups are vaccinated, it will be offered to healthy adults 64 and younger, putting seniors at the end of the line.

After first being identified in April, swine flu went on to become responsible for almost every flu case in the U.S., with over a million illnesses thus far. Though most cases were generally mild were not even reported, it has still resulted in almost 600 deaths among Americans.

Government doctors say that while seniors are less vulnerable to the swine flu, those who catch it are more likely to become very sick.

Researchers believe that seniors have partial immunity to this particular strain of influenza is because they have been exposed to so many similar viruses in their lives.

This is great news for seniors facing another dreaded flu season, which typically has a death toll of 36,000 people a year, most of whom are elderly.

Across the nation, in areas with larger senior populations, there has been much done to educate seniors about the flu and to make sure they get the seasonal flu vaccine.

For example, in Barton Healthcare, which runs nine nursing homes, assisted living developments and long-term care centers in Chicago and Peoria, Illinois, they are sticking up on latex gloves and hand sanitizers, while posting signs that tell sick visitors to stay away.

"In these settings, it spreads like wildfire," said Marian Simon, the chief nursing officer for the network.

Not wanting to cause unnecessary concern, she said that the seniors living there are being encouraged to get both the seasonal flu vaccine and the pneumonia vaccine, but they tell them that they are not sure about the swine flu shots.

"I don't even want to tell them. I don't want panic," she explained.

However, there does not seem to be much panic going on when you hear people like Judy Pepiton, a 66-year-old retired office manager from Phoenix saying things like, "I know people are dying from this, but I guess I don't really think that I'm high risk."

It also seems that many older Americans have become comfortable with their own mortality, and have a more laid back attitude about the swine flu warnings.

"There's a lot of other illnesses and accidents I could be concerned about," said 62-year-old Michael Kozubek, a retired lawyer from Chicago, who got his seasonal flu vaccination, but does not worry about the swine flu. "I could die of a million things."

Source: Associated Press-GfK