San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

First Order of H1N1 Flu Vaccine Arrives in Country

The long-awaited H1N1 flu vaccines arrived in Costa Rica on Thursday, two months behind schedule.

According to the Health Ministry, the shipment of 200,000 vaccines was delayed by a strike that began on Dec. 15 at the production factory in France.

Though the country has yet to enter into the anticipated second wave of the flu pandemic – during which the number of cases could grow to levels even higher than the surge experienced in August of last year – at least three people have died from complications associated with the illness thus far in 2010. After an outbreak at a home for the disabled in Alajuela, where more than 29 residents had confirmed cases of the flu, two young girls died. The third case involved a 13-year-old with cerebral palsy from Heredia.

The Health Ministry has reported 1,847 confirmed cases and 50 deaths since the first cases surfaced in May of last year.

As early as Monday, the vaccines will be distributed through local health centers or EBAIS clinics to the most vulnerable people.

Medical personnel, pregnant women and the chronically ill will receive top priority status.

Foreigners who do not subscribe to the public health system, but who exhibit signs of risk, can present a physician’s note to a local EBAIS center to petition for a vaccine.

Health Minister María Luisa Avila said last week that “at-risk populations are obligated to be vaccinated,” but she quickly added that the demand will exceed the supply in the first round of vaccines.

Avila has petitioned through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) for 1.6 million more doses of the French manufactured Panenza vaccine, but she does not know whether her request will be honored, at least in time for a projected second wave of the pandemic.

Though the vaccines will be distributed free of charge for Costa Rican citizens, each costs $7.50 and is given via injection.

The target population for the vaccine includes pregnant women in the third trimester and persons with hypertension, congenital heart disease, diabetes, serious and chronic asthma and/or weakened immune systems, persons dependent on oxygen for breathing, and persons who are morbidly obese.

–Chrissie Long

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