By Michele Grogan
As the holiday season winds down, concerns for limited flu vaccination availability both locally and nationwide could play a role in the number of H1N1 and influenza cases in 2010.
According to Dr. Andrew Saal, chief medical officer of North Country HealthCare, which operates the health clinic in the Grand Canyon National Park, the second wave of the season flu typically hits yearly in January.
Officials expect the H1N1 strain to spike also due to increased exposure to germs from the seasonal flu. The North Country HealthCare Clinic already has experienced an increased amount of patients this flu season. The clinic is averaging 50 to 60 patients a week with flu-related symptoms, up from an average of five patients per week during the rest of the year. According to Saal, the number of patients is unexpected in the region.
“The H1N1 strain seems to cause even more illness and death than the seasonal flu strains,” Saal said.
The Coconino County Health Department (CCHD) recently announced that the H1N1 flu vaccinations will be available to the general public beginning January 2010 at CCHD Clinics, including the Northern Country HealthCare Clinic. Currently, the H1N1 vaccine is available only to people at increased risk of experiencing complications related to the virus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has more information about the eligibility requirements for the H1N1 vaccine available on the agency’s Web site www.cdc.gov.
In an article that appears on the North Country HealthCare Web site, Saal wrote, “The regular or “seasonal” influenza remains a major problem around the world. The supply of seasonal flu vaccine has had unexpected shortages nationwide.” The seasonal flu vaccine also is difficult to find near the Grand Canyon this year. The CCHD has a limited supply of seasonal flu vaccine available.
Due to limited supply, the current people eligible for seasonal flu at North Country HealthCare are pregnant women, young children and the elderly.
The North Country HealthCare clinic in the park will continue to administer the vaccines through the remainder of this flu season. The H1N1 vaccine is free for people with Medicare, AHCCCS and most insurance plans. If a person has no insurance, the H1N1 vaccine costs $10 alone or $25 including the seasonal flu. No one who visits a CCHD clinic will be turned away for inability to purchase the vaccines. Appointments are not necessary, but given the variability of vaccine supply, please call (928) 522-2440 before making a visit.