The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
For the Star 

Roll up your sleeves: flu shot drill coming

Public health nurse, PVMC urges everyone to get it


The leaves are falling from the trees, hunting season is nearly over and most in Valdez are readying for winter. For those in the health care profession, fall means one thing: time to rally the town to get their flu shots.

“The more people we cover in town – it does have the ability to stop the transmission,” of the flu virus to those who haven’t had a shot, said Pam Shirrell, public health nurse in Valdez.

She also has her fingers crossed. Unlike the flu seasons of recent years, there have been only a handful of flu cases documented in Alaska so far, and none known in Valdez.

If the trend continues through the end of the month, this could be one of the mildest flu seasons in a long time – if people show up for the planned flu drill coming to the hospital this Wednesday, October 12, from 6-8 p.m.

“It takes two weeks for protection to develop,” Shirrell said.

This year’s inoculation protects against two types of Influenza A, one type of Influenza B and the dreaded swine flu, H1N1.

Like last year, those getting the shot should come to the front entrance of the hospital, Providence Valdez Medical Center. The line will run from the entrance through to the medical clinic.

The exercise of doing a large-scale vaccination drill serves two purposes according to Shirrell. The benefit of getting the most people a shot in a single day is obvious when you are talking about a disease that is potentially deadly and spreads so quickly through a community. But the second purpose of the drill is to help the public and local health care providers practice mass inoculations in the event a serious public health emergency, such as an anthrax attack or even a resurgence of the deadly swine flu that occurred a couple of years back.

So who in Valdez should get a flu shot?

According to Shirrell, just about everybody over six months of age. Only those who are currently ill with a fever, are allergic to chicken eggs or have compromised immune systems from certain diseases should abstain. And children under the age of five and those over the age of 50 are especially encouraged to get the vaccine, as they are at the highest risk of serious complications – and even death – if they get sick with the flu.

“We want to be prepared,” Shirrell said.

The State of Alaska provides the flu shot free of charge to kids from age six months to 18 years of age. The state also provides shots to those on Medicare. Organizers of this year’s drill are asking Medicare patients to bring their cards to the drill.

Last year, the state stopped paying for adult vaccines.

“They stopped January 1, of this year and no longer provide adult vaccinations,” Shirrell said.

Adults are asked to pay $25 to receive the vaccination. However, even that nominal fee may be too costly for some during trying economic times, and if you can’t pay the fee, you can still receive the vaccine.

“No one will be denied,” Shirrell said.

Brielle Schaeffer/Valdez Star file photo

Tanya Buttram got her flu shot during a Valdez drill exercise held in late 2009.

Another organization has stepped forward to ensure everyone in Valdez can get the shot.

“The entity that purchased the vaccine was Providence Valdez Medical Center,” Shirrell said, who has long championed providing flu shots to all, regardless of ability to pay. “Providence was fully supporting us in that.”

She said organizers are hoping that they will be able to repay Providence – at least partially – for the vaccine coverage for those who can’t pay.

Shirrell said it is important to get the vaccine every year. The types of flu the inoculations prevent can change from year to year and unfortunately, the protection doesn’t last forever.

“It only lasts about a year,” she said.


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