All 14 county health departments in Southwest Health District now have the H1N1 vaccine to the general public.
“All of the health departments currently have H1N1 vaccine on hand,” said Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant. “Depending on demand, some of the health departments may offer extended-hour or Saturday clinics for the convenience of residents who may not be able to come by during the work week. Check with your local health department to find out if one is scheduled in your community.”
Grant explained that the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have relaxed restrictions to the vaccine, opening the way for the District to make it available to the general population. Initial H1N1 vaccine doses were offered to five priority groups most at risk of developing complications from the virus.
“The timing of the state and CDC decision worked out well for us. A large shipment of H1N1 vaccine arrived in the District last week, which gave members of the priority groups who had been unable to get vaccine an opportunity to get it,” she said. Until then, the vaccine had been in short supply in the District.
Despite the announcement a new shipment had arrived, most county health departments reported a low turnout, Grant said. “At the same time, our health departments have been getting calls from people who are frustrated because they want the vaccine and aren’t in the populations targeted to get the initial doses,” she said. “We are happy that, with the restrictions relaxed, we can offer H1N1 vaccine to everyone who wants it.”
H1N1 vaccine is free at county health departments, although administration fees may be charged to Medicaid or Medicare.
Although the pandemic seems to be slowing – with fewer cases being reported in Georgia and nationally – residents should remain on guard, cautioned Grant.
“Having a supply of the vaccine available at a time when cases are declining offers us a window of opportunity to get more of the population vaccinated before the holidays,” she said. It takes around two weeks for the body to achieve full immunity from a vaccination.
“What we typically see in a pandemic are a series of waves,” Grant explained. “Our concern is that holiday gatherings and travel will give the influenza virus a chance to infect more people and trigger another wave.”
While most people who catch H1N1 recover at home without medical treatment, the pandemic has claimed around 4,000 lives in the United States, including nearly 600 child fatalities, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Grant also reminded the public to continue basic prevention methods that help keep flu and other contagious diseases from spreading:
- Practice good hand-washing hygiene. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Get your seasonal flu shot as soon as it becomes available.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Stay home if you are sick. Keep sick children at home.
More information is available by calling local county health departments, by going online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org or by calling the District’s toll-free Flu Hotline at 800-829-2255.
By Carolyn Maschke