Free nasal flu vaccine offered

By William k. Alcorn

The health department is targeting school-age children for the nasal-spray flu vaccine.

AUSTINTOWN — Free nasal-spray flu vaccine is available from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 30 at the Mahoning County District Board of Health, 50 Westchester Drive.

This is a huge after-Christmas present for healthy county residents from age 2 to 49, who are not pregnant, who don’t like shots, but still want to protect themselves against influenza, said Matthew A. Stefanak, county health commissioner.

The nasal-spray vaccine is available to eligible people regardless of income, he said.

Stefanak said he thinks there are many people who don’t protect themselves against the flu because they don’t like needles, or the temporary soreness that can occur at the site of an injection, or the low-grade fever that sometimes occurs a day or so after getting a shot.

Here is their opportunity for protection, the health commissioner said. Even if they can’t make the walk-in clinic on Dec. 30, people can call the health department at (330) 270-2855 for an appointment, Stefanak said.

The nasal-spray vaccine manufacturer, MedImmune, donated doses of its product, FluMist, to public health departments across the nation, Stefanak said.

“MedImmune probably overestimated the need for the vaccine. We’re grateful that they didn’t just throw it out. It gives us the ability to offer it to our community at no cost,” he said.

Targeting school-age children, the health department is having its nasal-spray flu vaccine clinic during the holiday vacation while children are home from school.

“We want to boost the immunization rate in the community, especially among school-age children. They are the people most likely to spread the flu to other students, their parents, siblings and grandparents, and thus throughout the entire community,” he said.

School-age children are one of the least-protected age groups in the country, according to a 2006-07 national immunization survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only about 25 percent of children, and the same percentage of adults under 65, got flu shots in 2006-2007, according to the CDC survey. In Ohio for that period, just 20 percent of adults in the 18-49 age group got shots or nasal spray. Those compare with 74 percent of people 65 and older getting the flu shot.

Stefanak said the flu shot is made from dead influenza viruses that are expected to circulate in the community that year, and the nasal-spray vaccine is made from live flu virus, which has been attenuated, or weakened. Neither causes the flu, he said.

However, because the shot or nasal spray take a couple of weeks to build up the body’s immunity to the flu, if a person was already infected when they got the shot or nasal spray, they are not protected during that immunity-building period, Stefanak said.

The health commissioner said now is a good time to get a flu shot or nasal-spray immunization, because although there may be flu outbreaks in September or October, the peak flu season is ahead, in January and February.

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