Santa Barbara County has received a limited number of H1N1 vaccines for high risk residents.

According to the Public Health Dept., the 4,400 vaccines will be available for pregnant women and children and young adults with certain medical conditions. Larger quantities of the vaccine are expected to arrive in early December.

The arrival of the vaccine is timely, as public health officials report that the rate of infection has accelerated in the county over the last several weeks.

The recent death of an 82-year-old female marked the third fatality from the pandemic in the county. According to county officials, the woman had significant underlying medical complications and had been hospitalized since the beginning of October.

The Santa Barbara clinic will be open today from 3-7 p.m. at 1136 E. Montecito St. to administer the vaccine to eligible residents.

Pregnant women especially are considered high risk given that the death rate for those hospitalized for the swine flu is currently over 20 percent in the country. The county’s clinics will be open to all pregnant women, regardless of their insurance status, and the vaccine will be available free of charge.

However, the vaccine that is currently available to clinics and physicians includes thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury that is typically not administered to pregnant women or young children. Due to the urgency of the situation, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lifted the restriction on vaccines containing thimerosal. According to medical analysis, the risk of this preservative is much less severe than illness and possible death from H1N1.

Children and young adults, from six months to 24-years-old with medical conditions that affect their respiratory and immune systems are also considered to be at high risk. Local pediatricians and health care centers have volunteered to identify eligible patients and contact them in order to protect them from the H1N1 pandemic.

Any remaining vaccines will be given for adult healthcare workers, who are considered high risk due to their exposure to the disease.

More information is available at the Public Health Dept.’s flu Web site,