Needles were sharpened, syringes were loaded and locked, customers lined up in good order, and so began the 2012 “Flu Games.” Tuesday afternoon at the county Fairgrounds in Placerville, public health department staff geared up to poke and plunge vaccine into a couple of hundred local arms.
“It is always important to get the flu vaccine. This year it is especially important because this year’s vaccine protects against two new strains of flu,” said Supervising Public Health Nurse with the El Dorado County Public Health Division Lynnan Svensson.
In any given year, new strains of flu viruses can appear, and they can affect people in a wide variety of ways — depending upon individual immune systems. And even healthy children and adults can get very sick from a bout with the flu, Svensson explained in an e-mail to the Mountain Democrat Tuesday morning.
For those technically-minded customers, Svensson described the new variations along with the regular old strain of the virus: ”The 2012-2013 flu vaccine will protect against three strains of flu: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus.”
Based on recent research, the Centers for Disease Control recommend this year’s vaccine combination as most effective against the kinds of viruses that are anticipated.
Within 45 minutes, beginning at 1:30 p.m., nearly 100 people had come in to take advantage of the county’s offer. Cathy Dunbar, program coordinator, said, “We’ve seen a steady flow, mostly senior citizens so far, but as soon as school is out we’ll start seeing more families.”
Dunbar said there was plenty of vaccine to handle the 200 to 400 residents expected to participate. The numbers of people receiving vaccinations at the annual Fairgrounds event has varied dramatically over the past few years. They have ranged from lows of about 200 to a high of more than 700 for a drive-by clinic a few years ago, Dunbar recalled.
Tuesday’s final tally was 219. Seniors 65 or older made up the largest single age cohort with 105, while there were 20 between 6 months of age and 18 years, Svensson reported in an e-mail to the Mountain Democrat Wednesday morning.
The published fee for the vaccination is $10, however Dunbar made it clear that no one who could not afford the charge would be turned away. She called it a low-key issue and said that typically the number who can’t pay is quite small.
Public health staff handed out a “Vaccine Information Statement” at the beginning of the process Tuesday. A double-sided broadsheet, it highlighted questions such as: “Why get vaccinated?” and “Who should get inactivated influenza vaccine and when?”
“Inactivated vaccine” is the common “flu shot” that is administered by injection and given to most people. A “high dose” inactivated vaccine is available for people 65 and older, according to the fact sheet.
“Vaccination is especially important for people at higher risk of severe influenza and their close contacts, including healthcare personnel and close contacts of children younger than 6 months,” the statement warns.
Those considered to be high-risk include young children, seniors 65 and over, pregnant women and people with “health conditions such as heart or lung disease, kidney disease and people with a weakened immune system.” Individuals in any of the categories listed “can get much sicker from the flu.”
The full list of high risk conditions is available on the CDC website at cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm.
The vaccine becomes effective within about two weeks and lasts about one year. Although influenza can occur at any time, typically the “flu season” runs from October through May, however during the past several years most infections happen in January and February, according to recent data.
Individuals with severe allergies including a severe allergy to eggs should not receive the inactivated vaccine and should consult their doctor. And although rare, “a severe allergic reaction to any vaccine component may be a reason not to get the vaccine,” the statement says.
“Serious problems from inactivated vaccine are very rare. The viruses in inactivated influenza have been killed, so you cannot get influenza from the vaccine,” the statement explains.
In addition to “inactivated” vaccine, there is “Live, attenuated” (weakened) vaccine. The latter is sprayed into the nostrils, and the public health department has a separate Vaccination Statement covering that type of vaccine.
Locals who have gotten the county flu shots for years would have recognized a familiar hand holding one of the needles. Phyllis Goldie, a public health nurse in El Dorado County for more than 20 years came out of retirement to help with the vaccinations.
“I love to do this every year, and I always see everyone I know,” Goldie said as she rolled up this reporter’s sleeve and delivered the dose.
She had an array of fun Band-Aids, stickers and stuff for kids on the table and was counting down the half-hour before school let out, and she was loving it. Goldie urged people not to be afraid of vaccinations and not to drag out or postpone their children’s inoculations. Having multiple vaccinations at one time does not “overload the immune system,” and it’s easier on the kids than coming back over several days, she said.
Throughout the printed statement, people are urged to contact their doctor or medical provider if they are unsure about which vaccine or whether any vaccine should be taken.
The next scheduled flu shot clinic is Saturday Oct. 13 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Divide Wellness Center in Georgetown.
Call the county Flu Hotline at 530-621-6188 or visit the health department website at edcgov.us/publichealth for information and for the schedule of other upcoming vaccination dates and locations.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.