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Officials continue fight against H1N1

POSTED: January 4, 2010 9:58 a.m.
Photo by Denise Etheridge/

Drew Weddle, a Jordye Bacon Elementary School student, sits for his H1N1 vaccine, administered by Liberty County Public Health Department nurse Mona Smith.

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With the public’s wellness in mind, particularly that of area school children, Liberty County Health Department and Winn Army Community Hospital at Fort Stewart, along with assistance from the public school system, collaborated on a flu shot clinic Wednesday at the health department in Hinesville.
Liberty County School System sent out fliers to parents of students publicizing the influenza immunization clinic before the holiday break. Health officials had hoped to immunize as many school children as possible, as well as other county residents whether military beneficiaries or civilian.
The CDC warns there is still a risk of contracting the H1N1 flu strain or the seasonal flu this winter.
“While we have seen a slight decline in flu cases throughout the Coastal Health District and the state of Georgia, flu activity is expected to continue for months and we could see resurgence in cases of H1N1 influenza,” said Sally Silbermann, Coastal Health District spokesperson. “There is plenty of vaccine currently available and we encourage anyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated to get their H1N1 flu shot.”
“The clinic was our first joint operation,” said Maj. Shannon B. Ellis, chief of preventive medicine at Winn Army Community Hospital.
Ellis explained he met with Deidre Howell, Liberty County Health Department administrator, and Liberty County School Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer to plan the shot clinic.
“There are about 10,000 students in Liberty County schools and 42 percent of them are military beneficiaries,” Ellis said. “We’ve done everything on post to make it easy for parents to bring their kids in on post. But a lot of kids still had not been vaccinated.”
The major said the best way to reach people is to make health services convenient for them.
“We’ve found in the past you’re only going to get compliance when you make it as easy as possible,” he said. “The concept is we go to them, we don’t wait for them to come to us.”
Jasmyn Weddle of Hinesville brought her son, Drew, 9, to the clinic Wednesday morning. Drew has asthma and took the H1N1 by injection, rather than the mist, which is also offered. Patients with asthma should not get the mist, health department officials said.
“We were pretty scared about the whole H1N1 thing,” Weddle said.
Ellis said Winn officials have tracked the number of flu vaccinations given and Army commanders have praised their efforts to reach people off post.
“We’ve given out 47,000 flu shots this (2009) year, both H1N1 and seasonal,” he said. “We began on Sept. 1, 2009. We also went to all three (elementary) schools on post.  All the teachers got vaccinated, and a large portion of the children got vaccinated.”
Ellis considers the H1N1 virus a public health emergency and said he’d like to see vaccinations offered for free. However, he understands the challenges public health departments face due to funding cuts from state and federal governments.
The health department now charges fees, in most cases on a sliding scale, for some services. Flu vaccinations cost $25 or clients can make an insurance claim if insured.
“We don’t want folks to become complacent,” Silbermann said. “The H1N1 flu virus has been, and will likely continue to be, very unpredictable. We urge Liberty County residents to continue to use personal protective measures to ward off the flu: wash your hands frequently, cough or sneeze into your elbow and not your hands, and stay home and away from others if you’re sick. But first and foremost, get vaccinated. It’s simply the best way to protect yourself from getting the flu.”
For more information, call the health department at 876-2173.
 

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