Flu shots available early

The seasonal flu shot being offered will not be effective against the H1N1 strain.


Third-grader Dawson Rigli, 8, gets a seasonal flu vaccine at the Alachua County Health Department in Gainesville, Fla., Tuesday.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at 5:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at 5:51 p.m.

The wait wasn't as long as Monday's at the driver's license bureau and tag agency, but the Alachua County Health Department saw a steady flow of customers Tuesday on the first day flu shots were available to protect against the upcoming seasonal influenza.

Facts

Seasonal flu shots:

  • Available at the Alachua County Health Department, 224 SE 24th St., and its Alachua satellite clinic in Hitchcock's Plaza, on a walk-in basis.

  • Cost is $25, free to those with Medicare B card.

  • Available now through some private physicians.

  • Coming to UF's Student Health Care Center later this month.

  • Also coming to locations at Publix, Winn-Dixie, Walgreens and CVS.

Sherry Windham, director of immunization for the health department, said they'd seen hundreds of people by mid-afternoon.

"We actually had people lined up at the door when we opened at 7:30," she said.

Most of those seeking a flu shot Tuesday were older, Windham said.

Others in the waiting room were there with their children. Notices have gone home with school children who are not up to date on their vaccinations, asking parents not to send them back to school until they'd had all the shots required for them to be enrolled.

A flu shot is not a requirement, but typical childhood vaccinations for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, hepatitis B, measles, polio and children pox are.

Influenza vaccination has begun earlier than usual this year. Windham said that's because vaccine manufacturers have already shipped much of their stock, clearing the decks for the production of a vaccine to protect against the novel H1N1 strain that is an unknown this flu season.

The seasonal flu shot being offered now will protect against two A strains and one B strain of influenza. It will not be effective against the novel H1N1 strain, often called "swine flu."

Among the dozen people in the immunization waiting room Tuesday afternoon, no one seemed concerned about having to return later this fall for a swine flu shot -- or even two.

The early shipment has been a blessing, Windham said, and she hopes there will be little overlap when an H1N1 vaccine becomes available.

"We'd like everyone to be aware that flu...even seasonal flu...can be dangerous, and take precautions against it," she said. "Prevention is the name of the game."

Getting a flu shot is one step. Following hygiene precautions such as frequent hand washing is another. Staying home (or keeping your children home) with a fever or flu-like symptoms is a third.

As of Aug. 26, two Alachua County residents have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza; 605 have been hospitalized in Florida.

The county health department has already received 4,020 doses of seasonal flu vaccine and is expecting a second shipment of 1,080 doses.

Windham said she still has no idea when manufacturers will ship an H1N1 vaccine, nor does she know how many doses will be available locally.

"In the most recent conference call (with state health officials), they were indicating it would be the end of October or beginning of November," she said.

Testing of the vaccine against the pandemic H1N1 virus is on track and there have been “no red flags” for adverse effects, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The first data on the effectiveness of a single dose of the vaccine should be available by the middle of the September and data from two doses should be available a month later, Fauci said.

Results of a new study in ferrets by Maryland researchers reported Tuesday have significantly reduced the fear that H1N1 will recombine with seasonal flu strains to mutate into a more lethal form.

The team headed by Dr. Daniel Perez of the University of Maryland found no evidence of such recombination.

According to Fauci, that reinforces the need for vaccination against both seasonal influenza and 2009's H1N1 this fall and winter.

Still to be determined, health officials say, is whether everyone will require two doses of the H1N1 vaccine for full protection. Most people under 50 will likely need two H1N1 shots, given three to four weeks apart.

And when the vaccine is finally cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, it may be that those most at risk will be identified to receive the first available doses. That would be pregnant women, family members or day care workers who care for a child under the age of six months, health care workers directly involved in patient care, and those up to age 64 who suffer from chronic illnesses.

For now, however, Windham reminds residents that seasonal influenza kills an average of 30,000 Americans each flu season.

Historically, influenza really takes hold in this area shortly after Thanksgiving, as families (and 50,000 University of Florida students) return from holiday travel.

Contact Diane Chun at 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com

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