Flu prevention gets shot in the arm

Saturday, September 21, 2002

The Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center won't be playing a waiting game this year with the flu vaccine.

Armed with 4,000 doses of the influenza vaccine, county health officials plan to begin giving shots on Oct. 1, starting with a drive-through clinic at the Jackson fire station.

Last year, a national vaccine shortage delayed shipment of the vaccine to the Cape Girardeau County health department until late November, creating an inconvenience for the elderly and others who wanted protection from the flu.

But this time around, the health center received its requested supply of 400 vials in September. Each of the small vials contains enough vaccine for 10 shots, local health officials said. The vials are kept refrigerated until needed.

While the vaccine should guard against certain strains of the flu, it won't protect anyone from the mosquito-borne West Nile virus or the common cold, health officials said.

Less vaccine

The local health department used to vaccinate 6,000 area residents. But vaccine shortages in both 2000 and 2001 kept the numbers down.

In 2000, the health center gave 3,077 shots. Last year, only 2,237 shots were given, said Vicky McDowell, a registered nurse and the health center's communicable-disease coordinator.

Jane Wernsman, assistant director of the health center and a registered nurse, said the county health center received its supply of the vaccine so late last year that many people already had obtained the shots at doctors' offices and clinics offered through other health-care providers.

The agency originally ordered 6,000 doses last year but cut the order in half because of shipment delays.

Wernsman said health center officials didn't order more than 4,000 doses for this flu season because they weren't sure when the medicine would be delivered.

"We played it safe this year," she said.

As it turned out, there wasn't a supply problem.

94 million doses

The Centers for Disease Control based in Atlanta recently reported no production problems on the part of the three manufacturers of the vaccine this year. In all, about 94 million doses of the vaccine will be produced this year.

Doses of the flu vaccine are newly manufactured each year so as to best combat the latest flu viruses. This year's vaccine is designed to protect people from the Moscow, New Caledonia and Hong Kong strains of the flu, Wernsman said.

The health department will vaccinate people from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 1 at the Jackson fire station.

This is the second year for the drive-through clinic, which Wernsman said is designed to make it easier for the elderly and disabled to get vaccinated.

Last year, public health nurses vaccinated 90 people at the fire station. But that clinic was held in December. The earlier date this year should draw more people to the drive-through clinic, local health officials said.

Said McDowell, "We are anticipating a crowd."

The shots are covered by Medicare and Medicaid. Those not covered by the government health programs will be asked to pay $15 for the vaccination, but truly indigent people won't be turned away, Wernsman said.

The health center requests the donations to cover costs, including the vaccine and labor. The vaccine alone is costing the health center $30,000 this year or $75 per 10-dose vial, health officials said.

In the United States, the flu season ranges from November through March.

"We see the flu peak in our area in December and January," Wernsman said.

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, cough and nasal congestion.

Health officials recommend that people 65 and older get the shot.

But at the Cape Girardeau Senior Center -- where shots used to be given -- elderly local residents were divided over the merits of the vaccine.

Bill Ford has been getting the shot for several years. "It didn't bother me at all," he said.

Ford said it's not the shot, but long lines he avoids. "If there is a big line, I will go back another day," he said.

But Raymond and Jean Leadbetter of Cape Girardeau have never had a flu shot. "We always felt the flu couldn't catch up to us," he said as he and his wife ate lunch at the Senior Center on Friday.

George West of Cape Girardeau is a firm believer in flu shots. But he said he gets his shot at his doctor's office. He said it's easier than waiting in line for a shot at the county health clinic.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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