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Officials remind Georgians to get vaccinated

By Maria Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

It is not too late to get the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, during the winter season, according to Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) officials.

New estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicate that flu activity is already higher than normal, officials said, and this time of year is normally the peak time for most average flu seasons. They added that, this season, most of the flu viruses identified so far, have been H1N1 flu viruses.

The 2009 H1N1 vaccine is free, but insurance companies may be billed an administrative fee, officials said.

"This winter, the Georgia Department of Community Health is reminding Georgians to remain educated about the availability of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine," the officials said in a written statement.

They added that, in the past, flu pandemic levels have varied, so it is important that groups at high risk of catching the H1N1 flu virus, get vaccinated as soon as possible.

High-risk groups include pregnant women, medical personnel with direct patient contact, people who live or care for infants younger than six months old, people between six months old and 24 years old, and 25-to-64-year-old individuals with underlying medical conditions, which cause them to be at risk of flu-related complications.

The Henry County Health Department, located at 135 Henry Parkway, McDonough, has ample doses of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, said Jill Bolton, county nurse manager for the department. The community is able to come, on a first-come, first-served basis, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m., to 11 a.m., and 1 p.m., to 3:30 p.m., she said. The Department will be closed on New Year's Day, Jan. 1.

According to Bolton, the injectable and spray forms of the vaccine are available at the Health Department. With the injectable form, individuals are able to choose the preservative, or preservative-free vaccines, said Bolton.

The Health Department also has the seasonal flu shot available for $25, she said. Bolton said that although the Health Department is not normally open on weekends, it will provide free H1N1 vaccinations for residents on Saturday, Jan. 9, from 9 a.m., to 1 p.m. Individuals should bring their health insurance cards. "We want to ... make sure everybody's covered," said Bolton.

Lisa Marie Shekell, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Community Health, said Georgia residents should visit the DCH web site at www.dch.ga.gov, to find a H1N1 vaccination provider.

Once on the home page of the web site, one should click on a large gold square, located on the far left, that reads "H1N1 Provider Locator (Swine Flu Vaccine)." The individual should then enter his or her zip code, and choose the distance they are willing to travel to get a vaccination.

"While these providers are listed on the web site, it is important to make sure these providers [still] have the vaccines," said Shekell.

Shekell said the flu season in Georgia often begins in October, and ends in April. Georgians are most susceptible to the seasonal flu during the months of December, January and February.

"Recent studies indicate that the flu virus is more stable and stays in the air longer when it is cold and dry," said Shekell. "There is also some speculation that people are more 'crowded' in the winter and, that this closer contact facilitates spread of the virus."

"We expect that there may be waves of illness with this virus, until a significant proportion of the population is immune, either from past infection with the new virus, or from vaccination."

Shekell said that people should be reminded that the H1N1 vaccination does not protect an individual from the seasonal flu.

"Vaccination is the number one way to protect yourself against getting the [seasonal] flu virus," she said.