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Flu vaccines available Tuesday

Nurse Carrie Drake administers a vaccine to a patient in November 2010. More than 15,000 cases of pertussis, better known as whooping cough, were reported in the U.S. last year. This disease is preventable with the DTaP vaccine. Health officials encourage everyone to keep immunizations up to date.

Nurse Carrie Drake administers a vaccine to a patient in November 2010. More than 15,000 cases of pertussis, better known as whooping cough, were reported in the U.S. last year. This disease is preventable with the DTaP vaccine. Health officials encourage everyone to keep immunizations up to date.

ALBANY -- The Southwest Public Health District's 14 county health departments and two county farmworker programs will begin offering seasonal flu vaccine at $25 per dose Tuesday.

"The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone six months and older as the first and best way to protect against influenza," said Southwest Public Health District Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant in a news release. "This recommendation is the same even during years when the vaccine composition -- the virus mix the vaccine protects you against -- remains unchanged from the previous season, as it does this year."

There are two reasons for the age and frequency recommendations despite the fact the vaccine hasn't changed, Grant explained.

"First, since flu viruses are constantly evolving, flu vaccines may be updated from one season to the next to protect against the most recent and commonly circulating viruses," she said.

The second reason is that a person's immune protection declines over time, and annual vaccinations are needed for optimal protection.

"(The flu vaccine) is the most important step in protecting against the flu," said Suzette Profit, immunization coordinator for the Dougherty County Health Department.

The shots do not contain live viruses and are recommended for those six months of age and older. The nasal spray vaccine is made with live, weakened flu viruses and is approved for healthy people ages 2 through 49 who are not pregnant.

Children ages six months through 8 years require two doses of influenza vaccine, administered four weeks apart, during their first season of vaccination. This year's vaccinations protect against Type A, Type B and the 2009 H1N1 virus.

Both shots and nasal spray forms of the vaccine will be available this season. Those who get the flu after having received the vaccine generally have a milder case, Profit said.

Officials say they expect the initial activity among those who want to get the vaccine to peak when they first begin offering it, and also when it gets deeper into the flu season.

"People generally think about it when it is cold," Profit said. "Usually traffic is heavy at first, then it goes down and goes back up as it gets cold."

Flu vaccine is produced using egg protein, and while reports of severe allergic reactions are rare, officials recommend that those with egg allergies discuss with their private health care providers whether getting the vaccine is appropriate for them.

Among those most at risk for complications from flu are pregnant women, those with chronic diseases, health care workers, older adults and the very young.

The health departments already have a supply of the vaccine on hand. The Dougherty County Health Department currently has 500 doses and is anticipating another shipment before Tuesday.

"There are probably 3,000 (doses) in the district as a whole," Profit said.

The health departments accept Medicaid, Medicare and state health benefit plans, United Health Care and Cigna. Inoculations will be offered on a walk-in basis.

"The vaccinations are important because the severity of the flu can cause time away from work and school," Profit said. "This season, protect yourself and those around you -- because it ends with you."