Peninsula readies for flu season

Posted: Sunday, October 03, 2004

Public nurses on the Kenai Peninsula are gearing up for the coming flu season, getting ready to puncture the arms of hundreds of residents hoping to escape this year's viral malady.

Speaking Tuesday at the Anchorage Pioneers' Home, where he got his own shot administered by staff nurse Janet Sumner, Gov. Frank Murkowski proclaimed Sept. 26-Oct. 2 Influenza Vaccination Awareness Week in Alaska, kicking off the annual flu vaccination season.

"We're approaching the time of year when Alaskans need to be vaccinated against the flu, especially our vulnerable citizens -- the elderly, young children and pregnant women," Murkowski said.

This year's vaccine provides protection against three strains of flu, including A Fujian, which caused the majority of cases last year. The Division of Public Health has ordered 100,000 doses of adult-type vaccine, and 25,000 does of pediatric, preservative-free vaccine for children. Adequate supplies will be available, but some medical suppliers may not receive their doses until late October, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.

One of the two U.S. vaccine manufacturers experienced some initial difficulties with its vaccine, but those issues have been resolved and the delay should cause no problems, according to Joel Gilbertson, commissioner of HSS.

"The vaccine is effective about two weeks after it is received," he said. "Because the peak of influenza illness usually does not occur until December or January, receiving a shot anytime during October or November is ideal."

The Kenai Public Health Center already has received 1,000 doses of the adult variety and expects 1,000 more, said nurse Mary Jane Hanley, team leader for the clinic.

Last year, the center administered about 1,700 doses, but the nurses are looking to immunize even more this year. They are focusing on older residents who can suffer complications from the flu as well as small children from 6 to 23 months of age who are more likely than older children to develop complications requiring hospitalization.

In some years when the supplies have been short, those higher-risk groups were given priority access to the vaccines. But barring that situation, anyone is eligible for the shots, and it is recommended that people around those at high risk also get immunized, Hanley said.

There are those who should avoid the vaccines, however.

"It is not recommended for anyone with serious allergies to eggs," Hanley said. "The vaccine is grown in eggs."

Nor should people get the vaccine if they are sick, she said.

Each year, medical experts make an educated guess at which strains of virus are likely to strike and formulate the vaccines to meet those threats.

"It's always possible that a new strain will appear that the vaccine won't affect," Hanley said.

The 15 staff members, including seven nurses, at the Kenai center are ready to administer flu shots Monday and Wednesday afternoons from 1:30 to 4, and Thursday afternoons from 1:30 to 4 at the Soldotna Elks Lodge.

Area senior centers typically schedule their own shot times, but those are administered by the public heath nurses, too.

The Homer Public Health Center has received some 600 doses, and more are on the way. Center Manager Leslie Callaway said the Homer center administers about 1,600 shots a year.

The Homer center will begin giving shots Oct. 11, every day through Oct. 15, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 1 to 3 p.m., except Oct. 14, when the center will be open until 6 p.m.

Shots also will be given at the Homer Senior Center on Oct. 21 from 9 a.m. until noon.

Other shot clinics are yet to be scheduled and will be announced.

"Anyone can get the flu, and serious problems from influenza can happen at any age," Commissioner Gilbertson said. "If you want to help prevent the flu, get vaccinated."

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