Health departments to hold extended-hour clinics today

ALBANY -- The effort to get the H1N1 vaccine out to the public continues.

All 14 county health departments in the Southwest Public Health District plan to remain open after regular working hours today to dispense free H1N1 vaccine to individuals in the priority groups most at risk of developing complications from the novel influenza virus.

"Especially with us getting low it's important for those at risk for complications to get the vaccine," said Carolyn Maschke, public information officer for the health district.

As long as a health department has even a minimal supply of H1N1 vaccine left, it will remain open until at least 7:30 p.m.

"For those (health departments) that even have one dose, we are asking them to stay open," Maschke said.

Priority groups recommended to receive H1N1 nasal spray vaccine include healthy children ages 2 to 24, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, and health care and emergency services personnel.

Priority groups recommended for H1N1 flu shots include pregnant women, children 6 months through 4 years of age, children ages 5 to 18 with chronic medical conditions and anyone 25 to 64 with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk for flu-related complications.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the district had approximately 400 doses of nasal spray vaccine and 200 doses of injectable vaccine. By rough estimates, the Dougherty County Health Department had less than 100 doses of the injectable vaccine. The health districts were closed Wednesday for Veterans Day.

Since the supply is decreasing steadily, officials stress it is best to call beforehand to ensure a resident's respective health department hasn't run out.

"There are some health departments that literally just have a handful," Maschke said. "I do expect there will be some departments that will run out."

It is unclear when the next batch of the inoculation will be released. It appears that the next shipment of the H1N1 vaccine may go to private providers since the health districts got the first shipment, Maschke said.

The vaccine is made by the same companies that produce seasonal flu vaccine, using the same processes. However, the H1N1 virus is slow-growing, so it is taking longer to produce H1N1 vaccine than was initially projected.

Until able to get the vaccine, officials ask that the public remain patient and take daily actions to stop the spread of infectious disease by: covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing; washing hands often with soap and water; trying to avoid close contact with sick people; staying home from work or school if sick; and avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth.

More information on H1N1 is available online at www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org and www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/, or by calling the district's toll-free flu hot line at (800) 829-2255.