Government picks up tab for swine flu vaccination

Health providers can charge non-Medicaid patients for administering the vaccine.

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The Washington state Medicaid program will reimburse doctors and other providers who vaccinate patients who get state medical assistance for swine flu, the state Department of Social and Health Services said Friday.

The vaccine is due to arrive this month.

Doctors can charge non-Medicaid patients for administering the H1N1 vaccine, but not for the medicine itself, health officials have said. The government is paying for the vaccine and supplies for inoculations, such as syringes and alcohol swabs.

The Department of Health predicts the first 71,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine will arrive in the state over the next few days, and local health departments will be responsible for distributing it to providers.

Those initial doses will be in the nasal spray form. Vaccine that can be administered as a shot will arrive later. High-risk groups will be the first priority for vaccination until health officials are satisfied there is enough vaccine for less-threatened populations.

First-priority vaccine targets include pregnant women; children and young people ages 6 months through 24 years; people younger than 64 who have conditions such as asthma or diabetes that increase the risk of complications from flu; health workers and caregivers of newborns.

The flu mist spray is not recommended for pregnant women or people with chronic illnesses.

While seasonal flu is more threatening for the elderly, the swine flu virus appears to strike harder at younger ages.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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