Braving the needle to fight the flu

State has shipped out 70,000 doses of flu vaccine

Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2000

For Beth McEwen, it came down to a choice between her hatred of needles and her fear of the flu.

"I remember when I was 3 or 4 screaming at the top of my lungs getting vaccinated for measles," said deputy city clerk McEwen. "It's one of my earliest childhood memories."

She also remembers getting sick two years ago during Christmas, feeling lousy instead of jolly while struggling to enjoy the holidays with her two young sons.

So McEwen decided to endure the sting of the syringe over the bite of the bug.

She admitted "chickening out" last year, but lined up with about 120 city employees and spouses last week to take their medicine. McEwen, who celebrated her birthday Wednesday, got her injection Thursday.

"Talk about a birthday present," McEwen said. "I couldn't look because I'd freeze up, my stomach would turn and I'd want to run away."

Belonephobia, or the fear of needles, can require sedation by pill, of course for those who suffer at the sight of a hypodermic syringe.

Dave Muldoon, a nurse with Cornerstone Home Health, estimated he injected more than 200 people over the past 10 days. He expects to do another 50 or so "sticks" by the end of the year.

"The injection is intramuscular so it's a bigger needle than average, and when people see it they get apprehensive," Muldoon said. "Several people stated they pass out when they get needles, but before they knew it we were done."

"In all my years I've only had two people faint, and they were big, strong strapping young men," said Corrine Rago, another Cornerstone nurse, who has been needling people for 23 years.

Cornerstone did the injections for the city.

Carol White, health coordinator for the city, said it was hectic having only two days to set up seven sites, ranging from the airport and valley library to downtown municipal and Marine View buildings.

The city covered half the cost of the $10 shots.

"It benefits the employees because they don't get sick and it benefits the employers because they don't lose employee work time," White said.

It's difficult to determine the number of shots so far in Juneau or Alaska.

Laurel Wood, state immunization program manager, estimated her office has shipped about 70,000 doses to public providers such as pioneers' homes and health centers. She said there are private providers who often get their supply elsewhere.

The state recommends the vaccination for everyone over 50 (down from 65), those with chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

A new group added this year to the priority category is women past their third month of pregnancy.

"The reason is that when you're pregnant, you can get a lot sicker and it could trigger premature labor," said Dr. Sharon Fisher, who provides pre-natal care at Valley Medical Care.

Flu shots are still available through local private practices as well as the state public health center at 3412 Glacier Highway, across from Twin Lakes. The center already has administered about 400 vaccinations and given another 300 to other community agencies. Call 465-3353 for an appointment.

The flu season can last well into the spring, but health officials recommend the shot as soon as possible.

"It's very miserable ... and can lead to other complications, such as secondary pneumonia and dehydration," public health nurse Colleen McNulty said. "People can die from the flu."

As of last week, there were a dozen confirmed cases of influenza B none in Southeast reported to the state. This year's vaccine is designed to protect against two strains of influenza A and one of B.

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