On Monday, Oct. 22 the Arkansas Department of Health will be holding flu clinics at Salem, Viola and Mammoth Spring schools, as part of a two month program to offer free vaccinations to fight the spread of flu this winter.
In Izard County, Calico Rock vaccinations will be given on Nov. 1. Melbourne school vaccinations are scheduled for Nov. 7, and ICC vaccinations on Nov. 8.
"Getting children vaccinated not only protects them from the flu, it protects parents and older people because lots of things, like flu, are picked up in schools and brought home," Arkansas Department of Health Spokesman Ed Barham said. "In 2009, the legislature voted to pay for vaccine for every school child in the state using Tobacco Tax funding, and we think it's a very wise use of resources."
The only disappointment is that more children do not get vaccinated through he program, in which health department nurses and employees travel to each school to give the free shots.
Last year, the health department administered about 150,000 doses to students, which is less than half of the students eligible for the shots. Salem Elementary Principal Corey Johnson said only about 25 to 35 percent of students at his school receive the vaccinations, and he would like to see the number increase.
"The flu vaccine triggers your body's immune system to fight off the flu when it comes around this winter. If you're young and healthy, the flu vaccine should be 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing illness," said Dr. Gary Wheeler, director of the Infectious Disease Branch at ADH.
According to Barham, this year's flu shot protects against H1N1, the flu virus strain that has been the biggest threat since 2007. It also protects against two other strains that have been detected in other parts of the world, and are seen to be the most likely new strains to appear in the U.S. sometime this winter.
"There is no shortage of vaccine this year. There will be plenty for everyone," Barham said. "While some people fear a flu shot could cause a negative reaction, such reactions are very rare."
On Friday, Oct. 26, the Fulton County Health Unit and the Izard County Health Unit will both hold mass flu clinics, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., for adults who want flu vaccinations.
The mass flu clinics at health units are open to anyone, but the elderly and others with low immune systems are urged to get a flu shot.
Pregnant women are another special population group which should get flu protection. "It is especially important for pregnant women to get vaccinated now, since infants can't get the flu vaccine for the first six months of life," Dr. Wheeler said. "Newborns that come into the world during the flu season will have some protection from the mother's flu shot this way."
Flu shots are free to those who do not have health insurance. Those who do have insurance are asked to bring their insurance cards so their insurance company can be billed for the cost of giving the vaccine.
For information, call the Fulton County Health Unit at 895-3300, or the Izard County Health Unit at 368-7790.