A sign taped to the front entrance of the Madison County Health Department pretty much sums it up – it is out of flu shots. The message also highlights the “serious shortage” of H1N1 (swine flu) injectable vaccine that continues to plague the northeast Georgia area.
But the good news is that cases of the H1N1, or swine flu, are down some in Georgia currently, according to Northeast District health director Dr. Claude Burnett.
Burnett addressed the flu pandemic and vaccine shortage during a Madison County Board of Health meeting last week. But Burnett also warned that cases of H1N1 could go back up as cold weather and the “regular” flu season sets in, which is sometimes as late as Januray or February.
“It’s prudent to get the vaccine,” he advised, if you can find it.
The clinic still has supplies of the H1N1 nasal spray, which is available for ages 2 – 49.
The most serious cases of swine flu are being seen in the four to 24 year old age group, he added, noting that the medical community is not seeing a lot of serious disease in the over-50 population. Burnett said he speculates that older generations have some immunity to the virus, possibly due to being exposed to a similar virus to H1N1 that circulated in the 1970s.
“That’s why this (older age group) is not a priority for receiving the vaccine,” he said.
And distribution of the vaccine is “perplexing,” Burnett said, noting that Gwinnett County public health departments recently received 15,000 vaccines, while health departments in the entire Northeast District, encompassing a ten-county area including Madison County, received only 1,700 vaccines, though population totals for the two areas are comparable.
The Madison County Health Department received 100 H1N1 vaccines last week, officials said, but those were gone in just over 24 hours.
“We get calls about it (H1N1 vaccine) every day,” said health department office manager Carol Phillips.
Burnett said the H1N1 vaccine is proving “very effective” against the virus and pointed out that it is a more precise vaccine, matching the H1N1 strain that is circulating in the community. “That’s unlike the seasonal flu vaccine, where it’s based on a ‘best guess’ of what’ll be out there this season,” Burnett said.
Dr. Burnett submitted a memorandum to all Northeast Health District employees, urging them to “strictly adhere” to the five CDC priority/target groups when giving the vaccine. These groups include: pregnant women, anyone from six months to 64 years old who has certain chronic medical conditions or a weakened immune system, people who live and/or care for infants younger than six months, health care and emergency medical personnel who have frequent direct patient contact and anyone age six months to 24 years of age.