TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Governor Rick Perry says Texas is more prepared than ever to combat the H1N1 virus. H1N1 has already killed nearly 2,000 people worldwide. US health officials are gearing up for what could be the largest mass-vaccination program this country has ever seen. The threat is here in East Texas and, if local health authorities are ready, the governor says we're ready.
"We are more than prepared than ever to handle the challenge," said Perry. "We know more about this virus than we ever have before."
Governor Perry spoke in San Antonio, along with other state officials. But the governor is also asking for more funding for anti-viral medicines to help keep the virus from spreading, a valid concern in East Texas.
"If it continues at the rate that it's going, between a third to a half of the people in the world could eventually have been infected by H1N1," said Dr. Jonathan MacClements, the Smith County health authority.
He works closely with the Northeast Texas Public Health District. The state has already allocated nearly $17 million for local health departments. He says the Northeast Texas Public Health District applied for a portion of that money to help distribute a vaccine as soon as it becomes available and keep East Texans flu-free.
"We really don't know what the fall will bring," said MacClements.
He says five companies are working to produce a vaccine by fall just in time for cold and flu season primetime for spreading. The goal is to keep new infections from overwhelming hospitals and clinics.
"I believe we've already had people calling and wanting to know if we even have our vaccine in yet," said Sylvia Radcliffe, Mother Frances hospital director of infection control.
Radcliffe says, right now, her hospital is trying to determine just how many doses it will need.
"Our biggest concern is making sure we get the best information, and...it changes on a daily basis," said Radcliffe.
She says a pandemic plan is in place, just in case. Health officials say the H1N1 vaccine will likely be administered in two doses. The CDC estimates about 45 million doses will be available nationwide by mid-October.
Groups targeted for the vaccine will include pregnant women, household contacts and caregivers for children younger than six months of age, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, all persons six months through 24 years of age and persons 25 years through 64 years of age who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.