The city’s first shipment of H1N1 vaccines, due to arrive this week, will be administered by private medical practices and reserved for healthy children older than 2 years, a city health spokeswoman said today.

Adults and other at-risk groups like pregnant women, health workers and emergency responders must wait for a larger shipment of 100,000 vaccines due to arrive “in the next several weeks,” according to Dr. Susan Fernyak, a deputy officer in the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s communicable disease division.

The first round of 7,000 vaccines is due to arrive today or Wednesday, Fernyak said at a news conference today. The entire shipment will be in the form of nasal spray.

The city has chosen to distribute the bulk of the H1N1 vaccines through private medical practices, rather than through schools or large public clinics, she said.

“Just like childhood vaccines, we really rely on parents to take their children in,” Fernyak said.

The health department is responsible for administering San Francisco’s allotment of vaccines from the California Department of Public Health. Children have priority because they, along with pregnant women, are most susceptible to the H1N1 flu strain, according to health educators.

A group of about 30 pediatricians, family practice doctors, hospitals and public health clinics are receiving the first shipment. Fernyak said vaccines will not be mandatory for any groups.

“When you’re looking at a mild strain of influenza it’s very hard to argue that you should mandate vaccines,” she said.

The second, larger vaccine shipment should arrive this month, but the state has not given more specifics on the date, she said. The shipment will contain “some combination” of four types of vaccines: live attenuated nasal spray; multi-dose vial injections; a preservative-free vaccine for pregnant women; and a smaller dose of preservative-free vaccine for children younger than three.

After that, the state will dispatch between 20,000 and 40,000 doses each week, Fernyak said.

“We should have plenty of both for everybody who wants them,” Fernyak said of H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines.

The city had initially planned to set up large-scale vaccination clinics. But Fernyak said the public health department had to abandon that plan because it’s not clear exactly when vaccine shipments will arrive. This makes it difficult to reserve large public spaces in advance, she said.

Public health officials are still trying to determine the span of the H1N1 flu season, she said. San Francisco saw a lot of cases in June and July, she said, but few cases are being reported right now. Regular flu season picks up in November. San Francisco has recorded a total of seven deaths attributed to the H1N1 virus, she said.

The city has worked with local hospitals on a “surge plan” in case medical facilities are overwhelmed with both seasonal and H1N1 flu patients, Fernyak said.

She urged residents, especially those at high risk, to get vaccinated as soon as possible. It can take up to 10 days for the immune system to respond to vaccines.

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