Caricom launching swine flu vaccination campaign; high-risk people to get 1st doses

October 20, 2009 3:33 p.m.

GEORGETOWN, Guyana - Health workers, pregnant women and the elderly will get the Caribbean Community's first batch of swine flu vaccinations in early November, the organization said Tuesday, but most people will have to wait as doses trickle in.

The 15-member Caricom bloc issued a statement saying that the first shipments of vaccine doses from the United States, India, Brazil and other suppliers are expected in three weeks. It was not immediately clear how many doses would be made available.

Caricom health spokesman Rudolph Cummings said the H1N1 virus is expected to intensify in the cooler months of December and January, the high season for regional tourism. More than 10 million people are expected to visit the region during the winter tourism season, which ends in April.

Cummings said the Caribbean region should be "more prepared to deal with this virus" than it was shortly after the swine flu strain was identified in April in Mexico.

In the southern Caribbean island of Grenada, the outbreak of different strains of flu viruses prompted administrators to send hundreds of sniffling students home this week. Some schools have been closed for a day or two to sanitize the buildings.

The World Health Organization says there have been nearly 400,000 laboratory confirmed cases and more than 4,700 deaths linked to the illness. In the vast majority of cases, swine flu is a mild disease from which most people recover without needing medical treatment.