Dr. Morita says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices released a priority list to outline who is most in need of the vaccine. That list includes: pregnant women, caregivers for children younger than 6 months old, healthcare and emergency medical personnel, anyone between 6 months old and 24 years old and anyone between ages 25 and 65 who has a medical condition that increases the risk of complications.
Does the swine flu vaccine protect against regular seasonal flu?
"The seasonal influenza vaccine will protect against three different nonpandemic influenza strains that caused the majority of influenza infections in recent years," Dr. Morita says. "However, it will not prevent pandemic influenza infections. Likewise, the pandemic influenza vaccine will only prevent infections caused by the pandemic influenza strain, not infections caused by seasonal influenza viruses."
So if you are eligible to get the swine flu vaccine, be prepared for a total of three shots. "One for seasonal flu and two doses for the nominal H1N1," Dr. Osterholm says. Studies have shown that the swine flu vaccine must be given in two doses to be effective.
UPDATE—September 16: On Tuesday, September 15, the FDA approved a swine flu vaccine that may require just one dose. Final testing on number of doses is still pending.
When will the swine flu vaccine be available?
No date has been set for delivery. "We hope in mid-October the first doses will start," Dr. Osterholm says.
If you aren't on the high-priority list, will it be possible to get vaccinated?
"No, because it won't exist," Dr. Osterholm says. "There are only 190 million doses for the country. If it takes two doses, [that's only 85 million people who can be vaccinated] right there."
There's no need to panic if you aren't able to get the swine flu vaccine. Doctors will be able to treat severely affected patients with antiviral medications like Tamiflu and Relenza, Dr. Morita says. But even that type of intervention won't be commonly necessary. "Most people do not need antiviral drugs to fully recover from the seasonal or pandemic influenza infections," she says.