Getting an annual flu shot is a ritual many Southeast Missouri residents, especially the elderly, aren't interested in changing.
They line up every year, money or Medicare cards in hand, and wait for the little stick in the arm aimed at protecting them from a week or two of severe illness, a hospital stay or even death.
And this year, finally, that ritual will go as planned, with vaccine available long before the late-December start of flu season in Southeast Missouri. The first flu-shot clinic will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Jackson fire station, leaving plenty of time for the vaccine to become effective before the first cases of influenza strike the area.
Last year, public health nurses in Cape Girardeau County had to wait until mid-November for 6,000 doses of vaccine to arrive because one component in the vaccine didn't develop correctly. In 2000, a shortage occurred after the Food and Drug Administration ordered two of the nation's four flu vaccine makers to correct manufacturing problems, delaying production.
Fortunately, the area saw low numbers of infections despite the delays both years.
The issue of delayed vaccine let many of us know for the first time what goes into protecting ourselves from the illness each year. Scientists must determine what three strains are most likely to attack and then develop a vaccine to fight only those.
This year, those are the Hong Kong, New Caledonia and Moscow strains of influenza.
The Cape Girardeau County Health Department is charging $15 per shot -- up from $10 last year -- to cover the vaccine and other costs, although doses are covered by Medicare and Medicaid and no one will be turned away for being unable to pay. Shots also are available in doctors' offices.
In addition to keeping prices relatively low -- to their credit -- health department workers try to make it as convenient as possible to get vaccinated against influenza by offering several clinics: two in Jackson, one in Delta and one in Cape Girardeau. At the fire station clinic in Jackson, patients need not even leave their cars, and that makes it easier for the elderly to get vaccinated.
The rest of the clinics are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Jackson American Legion Hall, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at the Delta Community Center and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday after Oct. 7 at the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center.
Who should get the shot? In addition to those over age 65, there are also residents of nursing homes; those with chronic heart, lung or metabolic disorders; those receiving aspirin therapy; health-care workers; and those caring for children under age 2. There's even a move afoot to vaccinate very young children in two doses a month apart, but parents should consult health-care professionals about this new practice.
If everyone at risk is vaccinated, plus following hygienic procedures all flu-season long, Southeast Missouri can look forward to a healthier winter.