Flu faux pas Wrong H1N1 vaccine administered at local school

Article Published: Oct. 29, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

Thirty-one local seventh and eighth graders were inadvertently given the H1N1 vaccine instead of the expected seasonal flu vaccine last week.

The vaccines for the regular seasonal flu were supposed to be administered to students at Parkway Elementary School if parents had granted permission. Instead, parents found out the following day that the vaccines had accidentally been switched.

Danny Staley, director of the Appalachian Regional Health Department, said the vaccine clinic was part of regular health-department procedure in which clinics are held in schools, businesses, senior and community centers and long-term care facilities.

Staley attributed the mix-up to human error originating at the health department.

"The nurse mistakenly grabbed H1N1 nasal vaccine and administered the wrong ones," he said. "Immediately when we found out, we called the parents and told them we'd be following up on the child."

Staley said no side effects were reported and said the clinic protocol had been reviewed. The same manufacturers who make the seasonal flu vaccine are making the H1N1 vaccine and the containers are similar, he said. The vaccines for each are available in either a nasal spray or a needle-injected shot.

Only the 31 students who requested the sprays got the incorrect vaccine, Staley said. He noted that if H1N1 had been detected earlier last year, it would likely have been part of the regular flu vaccine anyway.

"The good news is when we look at it, H1N1 is the only flu circulating in this area," Staley said. "Children are one of the prime targets and are the hardest hit by H1N1. Regrettably, we administered the wrong vaccine, with no negative outcomes to this point."

The Centers for Disease Control describes the potential side effects of the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccines as similar to those of regular seasonal flu vaccines.

"Over the years, hundreds of millions of Americans have received seasonal flu vaccines," says the CDC Web site. "The most common side effects following flu vaccinations are mild, such as soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given.

"Mild problems that may be experienced include soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, fainting (mainly adolescents), headache, muscle aches, fever, and nausea. If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days. Life-threatening allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare. If they do occur, it is usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot is given."

Most of the flu vaccines contain thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that has caused some concern. The preservative prevents contamination by germs, according to the CDC, and is one of the factors noted by people hesitant to take the new vaccine.

One parent whose son received the wrong vaccine on Thursday said she was called the next day by a health department nurse and told the error had occurred "in transport."

The parent, who asked not to be identified, said she would not have had her son get the H1N1 vaccine and was concerned about how such a switch could happen.

"My concern is the vaccine is so new, I would not have signed for him to get that vaccine," she said. "There's just not enough known about it, in my opinion. It's just bothersome to think that something like this could happen. It could have been more serious."

The parent said her son had shown no side effects in the immediate aftermath of receiving the vaccine, which was administered nasally.

However, she said she wouldn't allow her son to receive vaccines at school in the future.

The CDC recommends H1N1 vaccines for target groups that include pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, persons between the ages of 6 months and 24 years old, and people ages of 25 through 64 years of age who are at higher risk for 2009 H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Superintendent of Watauga County Schools Marty Hemric said it's routine for the health department to offer a vaccine clinic for seasonal flu vaccines through the schools.

"The health department is completely in control of administering the vaccines," Hemric said, "A letter goes out to the homes and parents give their approval for their vaccinations. It's just a partnership trust between the health department and the families and we allow them to use the schools. We value that partnership with the health department and appreciate their quick response to the families."

Staley said there is no need for a waiting period for people taking both the H1N1 vaccine and regular seasonal flu vaccine unless they are taking the nasal spray vaccines, for which a four-week waiting period is recommended.

"It's not a new vaccine," Staley said. "It's a new virus we're dealing with. This year we're doing a lot in-house (vaccines) because of demand, which is definitely up this year."

Staley said despite the error and the apparent easing of local H1N1 cases, he said a "third wave" would inevitably occur and vaccines would help diminish its spread.

"Most of the parents we talked to were glad to get the H1N1 vaccine and didn't even know it was available yet," Staley said.

"The last thing we want to do is create an environment of fear around this. Wash your hands and when the vaccine is available for your age group, please take it."

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