Some people who’ve had trouble getting flu shots from their own physicians — “Try again next week,” they’re told — have asked if there’s a shortage of flu vaccine, as there was a few years back. The answer is “no.” Decidedly no, if one looks in the right place, which is the state Health Department.
On Nov. 5, 6 and 7, the Health Department held mass vaccination clinics statewide at its 81 local health units. The clinics were a smashing success. “We gave out 123,172 flu shots in a three-day period,” Ed Barham, the department’s public information officer, said. “No other state has come close to giving that many shots in that short a period of time.”
The department broke its own record. It gave 103,541 vaccinations in a similar exercise last year.
The mass-vaccination exercise is over, but anyone who missed it can still get a flu shot. All of the department’s local health units have flu vaccine, and there’s at least one unit in each county. The department doesn’t expect to run out of vaccine.
Getting a shot is easy. A reporter went to the Health Department offices at 3915 W. Eighth St., on the south bank of Interstate 630. He walked in, took a number (one couple was ahead of him), filled out a form, got his shot and walked out 20 minutes later. The shot costs $20, unless you have a Medicare or Medicaid card. If you have private insurance, the department will give you a receipt that you can submit to your insurer yourself. The unit is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
It is not too late to get a flu shot. “It takes two weeks for the vaccine to be effective,” Barham said. “and we don’t have flu in the state yet. Some viruses are going around, but not the flu virus. Usually our flu season starts in December and goes through March. Last year, the peak was in February. But we’ll keep on giving shots as long as people want them.”
Dr. William Mason, director of the Health Department’s Emergency Response and Preparedness Branch, said the mass vaccination exercise was intended not only to protect Arkansans against the flu, but “to insure that health professionals and volunteers are prepared to vaccinate or dispense medication to a large population in a very short period of time.” In the case of pandemic flu (a global outbreak caused by a new strain of influenza), or terrorist attack, or some other disaster, such distribution might be necessary.
Flu results in 25-50 million infections and 36,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. Vaccination is the best way to prevent it, the Health Department says.
If someone’s had difficulty getting a flu shot at his private physician’s office, it may be just because doctors don’t know how much vaccine they’ll need, and they don’t want to order too much. “Ideally,” Barham said, “you’d give your last vaccine in March to the last person who wanted it.” Things seldom work out ideally.