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H1N1 vaccine restrictions lifted

State officials say anyone who wants it should get it

By Stephen Smith
Globe Staff / December 18, 2009

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Massachusetts health authorities lifted restrictions on who can receive swine flu vaccine yesterday, declaring that it should be made available to anyone who wants it.

Until now, the vaccine had been limited to those at greatest risk of flu complications, including children, pregnant women, and patients with underlying conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.

The decision was prompted by a classic supply-and-demand calculation: Even as the cache of swine flu shots and spray grew dramatically in recent weeks, demand for vaccinations declined. Health authorities attributed the slowing demand in part to a sharp reduction in the number of people falling ill with swine flu, which, in turn, appears to have reduced patients’ sense of urgency about being immunized, officials said.

The amount of vaccine has doubled in the past three weeks, with 2 million doses now having arrived or been ordered, said state Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach.

But Auerbach said during a press conference that people should not expect that vaccine will be instantly available at every doctor’s office or clinic. His cautionary note came as some physicians, as well as their patients, complain that they still cannot get easy access to certain forms of swine flu vaccine.

“This does not mean immediately that there will be vaccine at a large public clinic or a doctor’s office,’’ Auerbach said. “It will be available in a widespread way after the holidays.’’

State authorities said they expected to have 2.8 million doses of swine flu vaccine by the end of the month and 3.4 million by mid-January, nearly the full amount destined for the state.

Stephen Smith can be reached at stsmith@globe.com.