Health District receives large H1N1 vaccine shipment

ALBANY -- Those living in Southwest Georgia still waiting to get the swine flu vaccine may be in luck.

More than 16,000 doses of the H1N1 inoculation arrived in the Southwest Public Health District earlier in the week, allowing area health officials to reach more residents within the priority groups for the vaccine.

The 14 county health departments within the district have received shipments of the vaccine in both the injectable and nasal form.

"There is a variety of vaccine available," said Brenda Greene, deputy director of the Southwest Public Health District.

Dougherty County's allotment was 4,200 doses.

Shipments began arriving early Monday and are expected to be available immediately. Depending on what the future holds, officials say, opportunities may open up in the near future for the general public to receive the vaccine.

"We expect the vaccine will soon be open to everyone," Greene said.

Although the pandemic seems to be slowing, with fewer cases being reported in Georgia and nationally, officials say residents should remain on guard.

"While we have seen fewer flu-like related illnesses, residents should not let their guard down," Greene said. "It's not too late to get vaccinated.

"Any time we see flu-like activity, it is a concern. We expect to see more."

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, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

Some health departments are planning to offer extended-hour clinics Dec. 10 to accommodate the needs of people who can't get away during the day for vaccinations. The clinics will be open until at least 7:30 p.m.

"It is temporarily our plan to do (extended hour clinics)," Greene said. "We are certainly considering that."

As more vaccine becomes available, additional H1N1 clinics, including school-located vaccinations, may be offered. The inoculation is free, although administration fees may be charged to Medicaid or Medicare.

Private providers are also offering H1N1 vaccinations. Some of them agreed to be listed on the state Department of Community Health's Web site.

The CDC has identified five target groups to be first in line to receive the H1N1 vaccine. They include pregnant women, health care and emergency medical personnel, people who live with or care for infants younger than 6 months, anyone from 6 months to 24 years old and anyone aged 25 to 64 with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk for flu-related complications.

"The criteria has not changed," Greene said. "(The supply) will just make more available to people."

There is also a supply of seasonal flu vaccine available at the individual county health departments.

Residents looking to get inoculated for H1N1 are encouraged to call their county health department to ensure availability of the vaccine.

More information is available by going online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org or by calling the district's toll-free flu hot line at 800-829-2255.