SITKA - National Influenza Vaccination Week is Jan. 10-16, and it comes at a critical time in the fight against this year's novel H1N1 (swine) flu breakout.
Since the first case was diagnosed in April, there have been approximately 47 million cases of H1N1 in the United States, with more than 200,000 hospitalizations and nearly 10,000 deaths. While flu activity has dropped in recent weeks, flu experts warn that we should be prepared for a third wave of H1N1 flu.
The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium is honoring National Influenza Vaccination Week by encouraging its patients who haven't already received an H1N1 vaccination to call their local clinic and schedule a flu shot appointment. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows American Indians and Alaska Natives have a much higher rate of hospitalization and deaths due to H1N1 flu complications than the general population, and the best way to prevent the flu is through vaccination.
When supplies are in stock, SEARHC now is making H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine available for all of its patients. Previously, SEARHC clinics had very limited supplies of the vaccine and the vaccine only was available to patients who were on priority lists established by the CDC for times of limited vaccine availability. The Alaska Division of Public Health relaxed those restrictions statewide on Dec. 1, but most SEARHC clinics still had very limited supplies until mid-December. Now that SEARHC has received additional supplies, we are able to offer the vaccine to all patients who want it, when we have it available.
SEARHC patients who want the H1N1 flu vaccine should schedule a flu shot appointment with their local clinic, or check to see if it plans to hold a special flu shot clinic. Also, many community emergency preparedness groups are scheduling community-wide flu shot clinics at local fire stations or other community buildings.
SEARHC continues to have very limited supplies of the seasonal flu vaccine, which is different than the H1N1 vaccine, so we still are targeting the CDC priority lists for those people with a higher risk for seasonal flu complications. The seasonal flu priority group list and other flu information can be found on the SEARHC flu page online at http://www.searhc.org/flu/. You can call your local clinic for more information, or you can call the SEARHC flu hotline at 1-877-966-8549 (toll-free in Alaska) for a recorded message about flu vaccine availability. Additional information on the flu can be found online at http://www.pandemicflu.alaska.gov