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Some flu shots available

The first wave of flu shots for children are now available at local pediatricians’ offices for those who have private insurance or are willing to pay out of pocket for the vaccine.

Dr. Gabrielle Baldwin of Covington Pediatrics said Friday the “Vaccines For Children” program (VFC) has yet to ship its annual seasonal flu vaccine.

VFC is a federally-funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) buys vaccines at a discount and distributes them to grantees such as state health departments and certain local and territorial public health agencies — who in turn distribute them at no charge to those private physicians’ offices and public health clinics registered as VFC providers.

“That means that the vaccine we have in now is not available yet if your child is uninsured or on Medicaid — unless you want to pay for it out of pocket,” Baldwin said. “We do expect the VFC to ship those vaccines by the end of the month, though.”

Baldwin said the office has both flu shots and nasal mist, with an out-of-pocket cost $25 and $35 respectively. There is no office visit charge, she said.

“Now is the time when we all should be getting vaccinated,” she said. “The CDC recommends getting immunized as soon as the vaccines reach the doctor’s office or health department.”

However, when those vaccines will arrive at the Covington County Health Department is unknown, said CCHD nursing supervisor Cindy McAlpin.

“The state is telling us it is going to be sometime next month before we see the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine,” she said. “(Health departments in some) counties in Alabama already have their seasonal flu vaccine, but we don’t. I don’t know when it will get here, but when it does, we’re going to advertise it extensively. You’ll hear it on the radio and read it in the newspaper as soon as we have it in hand.”

Dr. Bashwan Bang of Opp’s South Alabama Pediatrics said his office also has the vaccines; however, it’s his preference to wait before distributing.

“I’m purposefully waiting a week, in spite of the CDC’s recommendation, in light of the circulating swine flu,” Bang said. “I’m hoping that will level off in a week or so and people will not link the flu shot to the flu illness.”

Bang said vaccinations “should not wear off” and will remain in effect for a year.

On Thursday, the state health department this week announced two more swine flu deaths in the state — a resident of Bullock County and a resident of Macon County — raising the total to seven deaths from the virus in Alabama.

One of the men was in his 40s and the other was in his 50s. Both died at a Montgomery hospital.

Officials said the deaths serve as reminder of the need for everyone to take additional precautions because of the early onset of influenza in Alabama.

The swine flu has led to deaths in Jefferson, Montgomery, Jackson, Pike and Russell counties.