Officials support flu immunization week

ALBANY -- This year, the concept of a person keeping up with their shots has added meaning.

During the last several months, uncertainties about H1N1 have frustrated medical professionals and the general public alike, but health officials say only one fact has remained unchanged -- the best protection is to get vaccinated.

National Influenza Vaccination Week, which runs through Saturday, has been designed to promote just that.

"The goal is to uptake the H1N1 flu vaccine," said Sue Dale, immunization coordinator for the Southwest Public Health District. "We would like everyone to get the seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccine.

"We just want to prevent disease."

This observation is typically conducted in October when flu activity is normal. Due to the unusual circumstances, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opted to do things a little differently, Dale explained.

"This year we have been promoting it throughout," she said. "The situation has changed. Flu is so unpredictable."

During a typical flu season in south Georgia, diseases would start to appear in late December and peak in February, experts say.

"We haven't even gotten to the peak we usually see," Dale said. "This has been so different."

The number of Americans getting flu shots often plummets after the holidays, but with more than 130 million doses of H1N1 vaccine available in the U.S. and flu activity slowing down in parts of the country, people who haven't gotten vaccinated yet have a window of opportunity to protect themselves and their loved ones.

While the rate of illness has declined somewhat, the pandemic is continuing to cause sickness, hospitalizations and deaths, officials say.

"The incidence of disease has slowed, but there is the possibility of another wave," Dale said.

Dale said Dougherty and Colquitt counties still have seasonal flu vaccine left, while other counties in the district have less. Officials started giving the seasonal flu inoculation in September, which is rare.

"I've been here for 20 years, and since I've been here we have never started giving the seasonal flu vaccine out before October," she said.

Those at increased risk of serious complications from the H1N1 virus are pregnant women; children and adults less than 25-years-old; health care and emergency medical service providers and; adults aged 25 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.

The H1N1 vaccine is readily available at area county health departments, other health care providers and retail pharmacies. As of Dec. 31, there were 2,000 doses of the nasal midst and 8,000 of the adult injectable form still remaining within the health district.

"We are constantly moving it around (the district)," Dale said. "Some counties are not seeing much (interest in the inoculation), some are seeing steady traffic."

For more information about immunizations, residents are encouraged to contact their local county health department or go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org.