Searching for swine flu vaccine this year is going to be a lot like shopping for the hot Christmas toy.
You'll probably have to wait in line to get one early. You might have to shop around to find one later in the season. But almost everyone who wants one should be able to get one before Christmas.
"We're getting many, many calls for people who are very concerned about the availability of H1N1 vaccines," Susan Smith, director of the division of immunization at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said Tuesday at an H1N1 flu summit in Columbia. "A little patience is required of all of us."
The private companies making the vaccine began shipping it out a little more than a week ago, but the process began with a trickle, not a flood. Only 117 doses were administered in South Carolina in the first week. Many more have been given in the past few days, Smith said
"We have to get through some of the bumps in the road, and hopefully we can smooth that out in the future," Smith said. "It's a mammoth task."
After months of practicing the other flu-prevention habits - washing hands frequently, coughing into tissues or sleeves and staying home when they are sick - some people can't wait to get inoculated. But they will have to wait at least a few more days.
Vaccines for the H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as swine flu, will be available through county health departments and hundreds of private providers - physicians, hospitals and pharmacies. Orders already have been placed for 140,000 doses for South Carolina. Hundreds of thousands more eventually will be ordered.
In a typical year, an estimated 30 percent of the state's residents get seasonal flu vaccines. Health experts expect the percentage could top 50 percent this season, both for seasonal flu vaccines and swine flu vaccines.
Add it up. That's at least three times as many inoculations as normal. No wonder there's a backup.
If you absolutely can't wait, go online to flu.gov and check the vaccine map for availability in your area. As of Tuesday, H1N1 vaccines weren't available for the public in Richland, Lexington or Kershaw counties. Health care workers got most of the first small batch to reach the area.
If you're more patient, check back at flu.gov in two or three weeks.
"The vaccine should be widespread by November," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "You'll be able to find it out there then."
There should be plenty for everyone. The federal government has contracted for 250 million doses. Only 12.8 million were available for shipping by Tuesday, Schuchat said.
The early arriving doses are being directed to high priority populations - health care workers, pregnant women, anyone ages 24 and younger, and people ages 24-64 with underlying health concerns.
Many young people will be able to get the nasal mist or injected vaccine at in-school clinics over the next two months. DHEC is putting together more than a million parent packets with explanation letters and permission slips for the schools. The school vaccination effort is especially important because the H1N1 strain hits young people hardest.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 7 percent of the hospitalizations and 12 percent of the deaths from swine flu have been in people ages 65 and older. In a typical seasonal flu season, 60 percent of hospitalizations and 90 percent of deaths are in that age group.
"This is a younger person's disease," Schuchat said.