Flu shots readily available at clinics

What a difference a day makes.

On Wednesday, Home Health & Hospice Care in Nashua was promoting a Monday flu clinic at the Senior Activity Center for seniors on Medicare and adults with chronic illnesses, while the city Division of Public Health and Community Services billed a clinic scheduled for today “by appointment only.”

But on Thursday, after state officials announced the lifting of restrictions on flu vaccine, the Nashua agency said it would vaccinate adults who are 50 and older – no matter their health status – and a spokesman for the city clinic said walk-ins would be welcome, even if they doubled the 200 appointments already on the books.

“We have more than enough to handle several hundred more,” said Paul Etkind, deputy director/epidemiologist for the health department in Nashua. “If 400 show, it’s OK.”

On Thursday morning, Dr. William Kassler, the state medical director, announced the rolling back of restrictions established in October in response to a critical national shortage of flu vaccine.

The state medical director said high-risk groups across the state had been adequately covered.

“They’ve had plenty of opportunity to get vaccine,” he said.

The state will get about 300,000 doses of flu vaccine during the current season, Dr. Jose Montero, chief of disease control for the state, told The Associated Press.

In October, when flu season started, he said the state expected 90,000 doses, considerably short of the 190,000 it had hoped to receive to vaccinate the state’s most vulnerable populations.

Kassler stressed that it is not too late to get a flu shot and that it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective. Given the lifting of restrictions, he said the following groups should get vaccinated:

– Anyone age 50 and older.

– Residents of long-term care facilities.

– Adults and children with chronic pulmonary or cardiovascular system disorders, including asthma.

– Adults and children with diabetes, renal dysfunction, immune disorders and the like.

– Children and adolescents receiving long-term aspirin therapy.

– Women who will be pregnant during flu season.

– Children ages 6 months to 23 months.

– Doctors, nurses and other health care staff in hospitals and outpatient settings.

– Employees of long-term care facilities.

– Caregivers of those at high risk.

– Household contacts of those at high risk.

– Anyone else who wishes to reduce the risk of becoming ill with flu – depending on the vaccine supply.

Kassler said the flu vaccine being distributed across the state is “regular flu vaccine” produced by Aventis, one of the nation’s two suppliers. The federal government plans to purchase additional vaccine from Canada and Germany for distribution in January, he said.

Kassler said people seeking flu shots should call their local hospital or primary care physician for information about clinics.

“We have a limited supply within the hospital to vaccinate high-risk, in-patients through the season,” said Judith Bennett, spokeswoman for Southern New Hampshire Medical Center.

Bennett said surplus vaccine also would be available to affiliated medical practices as needed.

Likewise, St. Joseph Hospital was looking at a surplus of vaccine and planning to distribute some of it to affiliated practices.

Lee Carver, director of pharmacy services at St. Joes, said the hospital ordered 11,000 doses of vaccine, received 6,500, and ended up with a surplus of 500 by following CDC guidelines and using syringes that saved more than 20 percent of the supply.

At the same time, Carver said, St. Joes was able to donate vaccine for staff at two nursing homes.

Lucy Saia, director of home care at Home Health & Hospice Care in Nashua, said her agency was lifting restrictions on a clinic slated for Monday at the Senior Activity Center.

Originally billed for seniors and high-risk patients, who will be charged $20 per shot unless covered by Medicare, the clinic was opened to anyone age 50 and older after the state relaxed guidelines.

The reversal was similar in the city’s public health department, where Etkind said the city can accommodate twice as many people as had signed up for today’s clinic, where a flu shot costs $10 – the price fixed before a recent increase in Medicare reimbursement.

“If they walk in, we won’t turn them away,” he said. “We have more than enough to handle several hundred more.”

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 594-6439 or at bernsteinh@telegraph-nh.com.