KENNEIWCK — After about two months of waiting, Mid-Columbia residents soon will be able to get vaccinated against H1N1 influenza, known as swine flu.
National health officials estimated the vaccine would be available by mid-October, but delays and shortages have meant that only those most at risk for becoming seriously ill from swine flu have been able to get vaccinated in recent weeks.
At the same time, national, state and local health officials have told people the best way to prevent swine flu is to get vaccinated -- resulting in doctors' offices, pharmacies and health departments being inundated by calls from a public eager for the vaccine.
Now, as vaccine supplies in the state top 1 million doses, enough of the shot and nasal spray have come to Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties that local health departments will offer the vaccine to the general public.
The Benton-Franklin Health District will offer the swine flu vaccine to anyone by appointment starting Tuesday. Appointments will be available Tuesday through Friday at the district, 7102 W. Okanogan Place, Kennewick.
People in high-risk groups will continue to be a priority for vaccination because of the increased likelihood they could become seriously ill.
High-risk groups are pregnant women, children 6 months to 18 years, adults ages 19 to 24, caregivers for infants, health care workers and adults 25 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.
The Walla Walla County Health Department will offer swine flu vaccination clinics starting Monday. The vaccine also will be available through doctors' offices and pharmacies in the county.
"People who are at greatest risk for hospitalization or complication ... should be immunized; however, the improved supply of vaccine has made it possible to offer the vaccine to anyone who desires to be immunized," said Harvey R. Crowder, Walla Walla County's public health administrator.
The federal Centers for Disease Control estimated Thursday that as of mid-November, about 50 million Americans have become sick and 10,000 have died from swine flu since the new flu strain was identified in April. That means one in six people nationally have come down with the virus.
The new numbers are a big jump from previous estimates, which said swine flu had sickened 22 million and killed about 4,000 through mid-October.
Most of the increase is because of cases that occurred after early October, when the nation saw the peak of a second wave of illness, CDC officials said.
The CDC also estimates that nearly 200,000 people were hospitalized through mid-November -- about the same amount that occurs normally in an entire winter flu season.
In Washington, there were 174 hospitalizations and 16 deaths attributed to swine flu from April 26 to Sept. 18.
Since Sept. 19, the state has combined its tracking of hospitalizations and deaths to include all forms of flu, although the CDC has said the vast majority of influenza in the United States during that time was swine flu.
Between Sept. 19 and Dec. 5, state numbers show 1,296 people were hospitalized and 64 died from flu.
In Benton and Franklin counties, three people have died from swine flu since the virus was first seen in April.
Swine flu cases seem to have peaked in Washington, but health officials say pandemic influenzas such as swine flu typically come in three waves.
That means more swine flu could be coming.
The United States has seen two waves of swine flu so far -- the first in April when the new flu strain was initially identified, and the second this fall when students returned to school and the virus spread like wildfire through college campuses and grade-school classrooms.
Local health officials continue to emphasize vaccination and proper hygiene as the best defenses against influenza.
The hygiene measures include frequent hand-washing, covering a cough or sneeze and staying home if sick.
* To make an appointment for the swine flu vaccine in Benton or Franklin counties, call 460-4510.
* For more information about vaccination clinics in Walla Walla County, call 524-2650.
* The Associated Press contributed to this report.