11/10/10 — Officials to county: Get your flu shot right now

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Officials to county: Get your flu shot right now

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 10, 2010 1:46 PM

It's difficult to predict what the upcoming flu season will be like, but local health officials are advising the public to get vaccinated in advance.

"We had thousands of cases here in North Carolina (this past year) and H1N1 accounted for about 98 percent of all flu cases, so there's no telling what's going to happen this year," Wayne County Health Director James Roosen said. "We have got three different variations of flu in this year's vaccines, including H1N1, for the simple reason that it spread around the world and accounted for thousands of illnesses last year. We're still seeing H1N1 cases. Of course, nowhere near what we saw a year ago."

In recent years, the flu epidemic has produced "weird outbreaks" around the world, Roosen said.

Despite that, the Health Department is seeing fewer patients coming in for the flu vaccine this year.

"We're not seeing that many people. We have got tens of thousands of people that need to be vaccinated," Roosen said. "Our job is to protect the public health and make sure people are protected, so a vaccine would help them."

One reason for the lower turnout could be that pharmacies and other locations are also offering the vaccine. Or, it might be that since there is no shortage of the vaccine, there is less urgency to get it.

"I think that's why we have had such a rush in other years," said Debbie Garner, immunization coordinator at the Health Department. "They find out there's a short supply or there's been a lot of deaths, and this year we don't have a short supply that we know of.

"The state supply was delayed at one time because of manufacturing problems with labeling but that has been resolved. So we have got all the products we need."

A public flu clinic was held in mid-September, with an estimated 400 people vaccinated.

The Health Department also provides a walk-in flu clinic on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 5 p.m.

The vaccine actually became available in late summer and will be offered until the supply is gone, Ms. Garner said.

"(Flu season) peaks usually in February or March," she said. "Most flu cases occur from November through May, but getting vaccinated in December or even later will still be beneficial."

The fact that the weather has been so mild and fewer cases of flu have been reported might also account for some of the slowdown in requests for the vaccine.

"It's the calmest flu season I have seen around here so far and it's already November," said Ms. Garner, who has been with the Health Department for 14 years.

The annual vaccination against seasonal flu is recommended for anyone age 6 months and older.

"At high risk are people age 50 or older, pregnant, having high risk medical conditions, and just because you were vaccinated last year, you still need to be vaccinated with seasonal vaccine," Ms. Garner said. "There is a lot of confusion -- it contains H1N1 and an A and B influenza strain also."

The state is also giving free vaccines to anyone 6 months to 18 years old who has Medicaid or is uninsured, she added.