MANATEE — As national health officials make final preparations to distribute an H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine, Florida’s largest health insurer has announced it will cover the administration of the shots to its members.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, which covers more than 4 million people, will extend a benefit for the swine flu vaccine to any member, whether that member has a vaccine benefit in his or her plan.
“Most health plans have decided to do this,” said Dr. Jonathan Gavras, the chief medical officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “You have a tremendous public health issue. The idea is to have everybody vaccinated who should be vaccinated.”
The government is covering the cost of the vaccine itself. During a conference call Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated about 3.4 million doses will be sent to 90,000 distribution centers during the first week of October. The government has purchased 195 million doses in all.
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The Manatee County Health Department will distribute the swine flu vaccine locally when it arrives. Public information officer John Burns said the CDC has told health departments to expect the vaccines by mid-October. Doctors have been instructed to register on a Web site in preparation for the vaccine’s arrival.
“All physicians were sent notices on how to get onto Florida Shots and register,” said John Burns, public information officer for the health department. “We’ve been given no ship dates for the vaccine.”
At-risk groups will be the first to receive the vaccine.
They include pregnant women, those who could spread the disease such as health care and emergency services workers, and people who live with infants younger than six months old.
Younger people, ages six months to 24, also will be encouraged to get the vaccine.
Florida is one of 21 states in which the virus is considered widespread, according to the CDC.
“It’s widespread in Manatee at this time. We haven’t seen any major outbreaks in the schools yet,” Burns said.