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Flu vaccine available to more state residents

Flu shots are now much more readily available than in theclosing months of 2004, and the Mississippi Department of Healthhas broadened its limitations on who can receive the vaccine, ahealth department official said.

Dr. Clay Hammack, district health officer, said the healthdepartment employees began administering flu shots to an expandedcategory of “high-risk adults” on Jan. 1.

“We do have vaccine available at all county health departments,”he said. “It is still restricted to (children under six years old),but is now available to more adults.”

Previously, the vaccine was limited to people considered at highrisk of getting the flu, including adults 65 or older; people withlong-term health problems such as heart disease, kidney disease,lung disease, metabolic diseases, such as diabetes; blood diseases,or a weakened immune system; women who are pregnant; and anyone wholives with or cares for children less than six months old.

Since Jan. 1, those requirements have been loosened. The agerequirement for adults has been lowered to those over the age of50, home health providers and any adult who has household contactto a person meeting any of the other requirements, Hammacksaid.

So far, however, not many people have taken advantage of theexpanded coverage.

“We gave a lot of flu shots to the original high-risk group, butI don’t think we’ve given a lot yet to the new expanded group,”Hammack said. “We’ve had a very mild flu season so far, so therehas been some lost of interest in getting the flu shot. But it’sonly now that we’re starting to see some sporadic cases in thestate.”

In recent weeks, he said, the state has confirmed five cases ofthe flu and several of illnesses similar to the flu have beendiagnosed.

“When you start getting these confirmed cases, there are usuallymore there that are not reported,” he said. “From now to Februaryis usually our busy season for the flu.”

As of Thursday, two of the reported cases were found in HindsCounty, two in Harrison County and one in Forrest County, Hammacksaid. However, flu is not an illness that is confined to certainareas and its presence alone means other cases could emergeanywhere in the state.

Those who received flu shots earlier this winter are stillprotected, he said. Vaccines are typically effective through anentire season.

“I urge anyone who has not yet received a flu shot and who meetsthe requirements to visit their local health center or theirprivate doctor for a shot,” Hammack said. “We have not had any longlines at our health centers so far.”

The adult flu vaccine costs $15 and the pediatric flu vaccinecan be obtained for $10. The pneumonia vaccine is available atcounty health department clinics for the cost of $25. Pneumonia isthe most serious complication of flu. Senior citizens and high-riskMississippians should speak with their provider about obtainingthis vaccine.