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Area interest in flu vaccinations diminishes

ALBANY. Ga. -- At this time in 2009, people couldn't get their flu vaccinations fast enough.

That's not the case this year.

As of Monday, the Southwest Public Health District had administered 1,837 doses of the flu vaccine in the nearly three weeks it has been available this year. That's an 82 percent drop from the 10,192 doses given last season as of Sept. 27.

"This is a big drop," said Sue Dale, the district's immunization coordinator. "As far as public health goes, it's not moving as fast as it has (in the past).

"I suspected this might happen, but to be honest, I was surprised."

Dale said she attributes the drop to the decrease in publicity from last year, at which time H1N1, commonly known as swine flu, had been declared a pandemic by the time the vaccine became available.

What is also likely is that more people have opted to utilize private providers administering the vaccine at area pharmacies.

"In bigger towns, we are seeing more and more private (providers)," Dale said. "I would say the biggest factor is that people are getting it elsewhere."

Some counties may even have more opportunities to provide residents with the vaccine outside of clinical and pharmacy settings.

"Some counties may have a larger number of off-site clinics -- like when flu shots are given to teachers and staff at schools or to employees at a business's request," Dale said. "We are not giving as much on-site; there are a lot of off-sites."

Last year, officials began offering the seasonal flu vaccine Sept. 2 -- a month before the H1N1 inoculation arrived. This year, the vaccine became available Sept. 8.

Traditionally, flu shots have been offered starting in October.

"I've been in public health for 18 years, and (2009) was the first year I've seen it offered before Oct. 1," Dale said.

Colquitt and Seminole counties, both of which had administered more than 200 doses as of Monday afternoon, have given out the most this year. Just behind these counties are Early at 190 doses and Dougherty at 145 doses.

When a person goes into a health department for a flu shot, Dale said the procedure generally calls for the staff there to gather additional information on a patient's immunization history.

"We give them a flu shot and educate them on what else they should have," she said. "That is one thing (public health officials) do that is very valuable.

"We hope not to lose all of these people. Some of them we only see once a year when they get their flu shot. We won't see an increase in coverage of illness if they don't come in here. We do want to continue to educate."

To date, the district has received a total of six vaccine shipments. Officials expect more shipments to arrive in the coming weeks. This year's formula protects against the pandemic 2009 H1N1 virus, an A-H3N2 strain and a B-Brisbane strain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation is that everyone six months of age and older receive the injectable vaccine. The nasal mist, which contains weakened live viruses, is an option for healthy individuals ages 2 to 49 who are not pregnant.

A handful of individual health departments has upcoming drive-through inoculation clinics at which officials expect to provide only the injectable vaccine. Lee County will have one Oct.6, and Dougherty has one planned for Oct. 7.

Baker, Seminole, Terrell and Worth counties have clinics set for the month of October. The Calhoun County Health Department is planning one for November.

The vaccine costs $25 a dose. County health departments will bill Medicaid, Medicare, PeachState, WellCare, AmeriGroup as well as state benefit health plans of United Healthcare and Cigna.